GENESEO - The sight said it all.

Flanked by two police officers and a Geneseo school official, the victory bell of Geneseo High School sat in its usual place, just outside the end zone underneath the beautiful new scoreboard at Bob Reade Field.

For the first time in 90 years following a game against the Cavaliers, no one was running over to hear the loud, echoing gong.

No fireworks were exploding in the background.

The only sound that could really be heard were the deafening shrills of victory coming from the celebrating La Salle-Peru players as they rushed the field in excitement.

L-P senior kicker Jake Steele had just booted through a game-winning 25-yard field goal to beat the Maple Leafs and give the Cavaliers their first win over the Green Machine since 1919.

"My dad has been telling me all week that he didn't care if he gets arrested," senior Eric Jenkins said of the prized green victory bell of the Leafs. "He wanted to ring that bell. Every parent I've heard wanted to ring that bell. I just wanted to Lambeau Leap in the crowd."

Instead, L-P had to metaphorically ring the bell on the football field.

And it never felt so good.

Jenkins, senior quarterback Sam Renk, senior tight end Michael Bergagna and senior offensive/defensive lineman Tim Wold are three-year starters on this team.

They've seen their share of heartbreak.

How about the 3-0 game in the regular season two years ago?

Or the first round of the playoffs later that season when the Cavaliers took a lead in overtime against the Leafs but later fell 28-21 in two extra sessions?

Or how about last year?

L-P had a 24-6 lead in the second half before seeing Geneseo score 26 straight points to claim a heart-breaking 32-24 victory over what they thought were the "Lovable Losers" of high school football.

Until now, that is.

The L-P seniors were sick of the past. Sick of reading about ghosts in the newspaper. Sick of seeing the yellow helmets with the "G" on them raised into the Friday night lights.

"We knew we weren't going to let it happen again," Renk said. "I told coach (Kevin) Keating that I wasn't going to let it happen again."

Renk made good on his word.

He was the general of an offense that pounded out 473 yards of total yardage. He threw for 251 yards. He handed the ball off to Jenkins and his magical feet as the tailback ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns and caught one touchdown from Renk, too.

But Renk's finest moment came in the final 1 minute, 40 seconds of the game, when it was hard not to think, "Here we go again" if you were an L-P supporter.

Starting on his 35-yard line, Renk marched L-P down the field, calming the Cavs down when he needed to, hitting on a big 19-yard pass play to Bergagna to move the sticks after a momentum-busting Geneseo sack on a third-and-15 and letting Jenkins and the L-P offensive line do the rest.

"The offense did what they needed to do," La Salle-Peru coach Joe Sassano said. "A lot of people had a lot to do with that. … The kids still believed. Going back to the Morris game, they knew that they had a shot at that one, too. We knew that, in this one, we had a shot. All we needed to do was get into field goal range."

That's exactly what they did.

With two big Geneseo penalties aiding the final charge, L-P took the ball down to the Geneseo 8 and handed it over to Steele's boot.

Talk about a good story.

He had to win his kicking job in the preseason after being in the shadows of NCIC Reagan Division second-team all-conference kicker Michael Brandner, who had graduated.

He missed an extra point earlier in the game, his first of the season.

He had never been put in a situation like this.

Then, after Geneseo attempted to ice him with a timeout with 7.4 seconds left, Steele attempted the kick that helped all living L-P football players of decades past sleep at night.

"I don't think I could have been more nervous," said junior defensive end C.J. Robbins, who had two sacks on the night. "I knew he had it, but it's the most nerve-racking thing I have ever been through in my life."

No need to worry.

The ball went through the goal posts.

The rest of the night was history.

Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at sports@newstrib.com.

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