Elliston runs for 183 yards, 4 touchdowns
Trailing by 13 points at halftime following St. Charles East linebacker Devean Shearer's 63-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the second quarter, Glenbard North football coach Ryan Wilkens offered words of encouragement to his players at the intermission.
"I just told the kids, 'Hey, there's nothing we can do about the first half - we're down two (scores) - we'll just keep going,'" said Wilkens.
The Panthers (2-2, 1-1) responded accordingly, outscoring the Saints (2-2, 0-2) 20-0 in the second half on their way to a much-needed 41-34 DuKane Conference victory Friday night at Norris Stadium in St. Charles.
Workhorse tailback Damarion Elliston, who rushed for a game-high 183 yards on 30 carries while also playing defensive back in the Panthers' secondary, scored 3 of his 4 touchdowns over the final 24 minutes, capping the comeback with an 8-yard TD run with 4:52 remaining.
"I love the game," said Elliston, whose 6-yard touchdown run tied the contest 34-34 on the Panthers' previous possession with 9:06 left. "This is my free time. I try my best to succeed and play for my team."
"Damarion ran hard tonight, and the kids up front did their jobs," said Wilkens, whose team snapped a 2-game losing streak. "It's a long road uphill if you don't win this one."
The Saints relied on several big plays to stun the Panthers in the first half, including an 80-yard halfback option pass from Mac Paul to Mason Tousignant (3 catches, 113 yards) on their first play from scrimmage.
"That's how you want to start a homecoming game - electric," said Saints coach Nolan Possley, whose team added first-half touchdowns on Lane Robinson's 30-yard pass to Tousignant, his 35-yard strike to Charles Bolsoni, Blake Schuette's 50-yard run and Shearer's pick-6.
Things changed dramatically for the Saints in the second half.
Pinning the Saints inside their 20-yard line on back-to-back, third-quarter possessions, the Panthers' defense finally found its footing while the offense capitalized on a short field.
Elliston's 1-yard TD run on 4th-and-goal capped a 7-play, 16-yard drive to close the gap to 34-27.
"Our defense played tremendously in the second half," said Wilkens, whose team held the Saints without a single yard of offense in the final 2 quarters. "Obviously, momentum picked up after the two short fields, and we were able to punch it in and tie the game up. After that, we ran the ball effectively and played great defense."
Johnnie Robertson's interception in the final minute on a 4th-and-18 play from the Saints' 19 sealed the victory for the Panthers.
"Field position ate us up the entire second half," Possley said. "We were putting them in a great position from the start of the second half and credit to them for capitalizing.
"Sitting at 2-2, especially after a hard-fought game here, this is where we've got to rally together. Every opportunity that we've talked about is still right in front of us."