Coming into this week's playoff action, only 64 teams around the state had the opportunity to continue their football season. With the playoffs moving into the quarterfinal round, the end of the season is nearing.
But, for those who are still playing at this time of year, the late stages of the playoffs can be one of the most exciting moments in the lives of young men involved. The quarterfinal round of the Illinois High School playoffs was filled with intensity and increased emotion as teams fight for their playoff lives. Let's take a look at some of the action from the weekend.
In Lexington, the defending state runner-ups tried to keep their title aspirations alive against a senior-filled class from Lewistown. The Minutemen stormed out of the gate on a forty yard run by Connor Kelly. Kelly has amassed over 2,000 yards this season and is the key to the Lexington offensive attack. After his score put the Minutemen up 7-0, it was all Lewistown from there.
Later in the 2nd quarter, Kelly left the game with a hip injury and would not return. Lexington could not recover from his loss. Senior Tailback Zach Duncan went on to rush for over 300 yards and a score for Lewistown. Duncan also caught a pass for a touchdown. Lewistown controlled the rest of the game and defeated Lexington 35-7.
Up north, East Dubuque tried to fend off the hard-nosed squad from Lena Winslow. Unfortunately for East Dubuque, they could not get anything going offensively on Saturday. The Panther defense stifled the East Dubuque attack and held East Dubuque's top two back under 75 yards rushing.
Also for the Panthers, Seth Dascher ran for 180 yards and a score. Quinn Haas ran for 161 yards and another score on the way to a convincing 34-15 win for Lena Winslow. The Panthers will next face undefeated Lewistown in the semis.
Also moving on this weekend was Brown County. After barely surviving a second round matchup with Leroy the week before, the Hornets came out in full force on Saturday. Dallas Phelps ran for 127 yard while Ace Henricks added another 89 yards on the ground and two scores. Henricks also kicked a 20 yard field goal for the visitors.
Hardin Calhoun could not get much going as the Hornet used a swarming attack to hold Hardin's leading rusher, Ethan Eberlin, to 77 yards on 19 carries. Brown County advances with a 25-6 victory.
In a rematch of last year's semifinals, Tuscola got the best of Jacksonville Routt. High touted quarterback prospect Jud Wienke threw for 148 yards and three touchdowns in the win for the Warriors. Also having a big day was Tuscola tailback Jonathan Turner, who ran for 155 yards and a score on the day.
Tuscola used its athleticism and a bend-but-not-break defense to out-duel Routt. Routt halfback Michael Tonry finished with 112 yards rushing in 25 carries for the day. Tuscola will now play Brown County in the semifinals.
In Morrison, there had been talk for weeks about how bad the kids wanted a rematch with the Sterling Newman Catholic Comets. In the quarterfinal round, the defending state champs got what they wanted.
Things stared out great for the Mustangs, who jumped out to a 19-0 lead through the first quarter by taking advantage of several Newman miscues. On their first possession, Morrison's Calvin Harridge set up a Mustang score with an interception. Morrison quarterback Danny Dennehey then threw a 55 yard touchdown pass to Jason Caruso. After a blocked punt for a touchdown and another Newman turnover, Morrison had built a 19-0 lead.
However, number one-rated Newman fought back with a couple scores of its own, including a one yard run by Tim Wilson to get the score to 19-16 at the half. The second half was filled with defense as neither team was giving up much.
But Newman's Wilson broke through on another one yard plunge to make the score 22-19. Morrison tried for a furious comeback, but Dennehey was picked off in the end zone with around a minute to play to send the Comets to the next round.
In one of the more exciting matchups of the weekend, Deer Creek Mackinaw held off a late charge from Clifton Central in a 40-39 thriller. Several times, the host Chiefs jumped out to two score leads, but Clifton Central battled back both times.
Late in the game, the Chiefs took a 40-27 lead on a 91 yard touchdown run by Austin Andrews. Andrews tight-roped the sideline and bounced off of several tacklers to cap off an amazing score. Central came right back with a touchdown throw from Trent Faulkner on its next play from scrimmage. Faulkner threw for 5 touchdowns and 319 yards on the day.
After scoring with just over three minutes left in regulation, Clifton went for the 2 point conversion and the win. But Faulkner bobbled the shot gun snap and the Chiefs defense swarmed him. The Comets were able to get the ball back with under a minute to go, but several sacks and a penalty backed the Comets up to their own one yard line. The Comets could not overcome those miscues, so the Chiefs will move on to play Sterling Newman in the semifinals.
In the southern half of the bracket, Maroa Forsyth knocked off Williamsville 13-6. Known for their speed and spread offense, the Trojans used a potent rushing attack to the keep the Williamsville defense on its heels all day.
Maroa tailback Gary Scott rushed for 217 yards and a score. Trojan quarterback Logan Stelzreide struggled throwing the ball but ran for 27 yards and a score in the victory.
Williamsville could not get anything going on the ground, so it went to the air. Williamsville quarterback Josh Gentile was 9-17 for 85 yards and a score. But he was also picked off twice by the speedy Moroa defense.
Completing the 2A semifinals is a team that is becoming very familiar with the opportunity ahead of them. Casey Westfield used a strong running attack to overwhelm their opponents from Staunton 32-20. Casey running back Austin Ragsdale ran for 227 yards and a score in the win. Also having a nice rushing day for Casey was Taylor White who had 53 yards rushing and three scores.
For Staunton, it was a struggle most of the day. Zach Ward finished with 78 yards rushing and a touchdown. Adam Boston also contributed with 34 yards rushing and two scores, but it was enough. Casey advances to take on Maroa Forsyth in next week's semifinal.
Defending State Champs Stillman Valley faced off against the potent passing attack of Aurora Christian over the weekend. Even though this matchup intrigued many, it turned out to be a one-sided battle in Stillman's favor. Stillman stomped the visitors from Aurora 46-16.
The Cardinals' Adam Cox erupted for 211 yards and three touchdown carries. Also having a nice day rushing was Nate Bond, who rushed for 87 yards and 3 more touchdowns. The Cardinals rushing attack was too much for Aurora Christian to overcome. Anthony Maddie threw for 185 yards but was picked off twice by the Stillman defense.
In a rivalry battle, Tolono Unity took on St. Joseph Ogden on Saturday night. The two schools that used to battle regularly hadn't played since 2006 because of conference shifts. The schools are only around twenty miles apart, which set up a bitter rivalry between the schools.
After riding the shoulders of Jake Bock all season, Bock could only muster 54 yards on twenty carries Saturday night. Without the strong rushing attack, the Spartans were no match for Unity.
The Rockets consistently moved the ball and were lead by Michael Lefenhagen's 186 yards rushing. Lefenhagen's paced the Rockets to a 41-20 victory and helped them move on to face Stillman Valley in the semifinals.
There were two blowouts In the southern half of the 3A bracket over the weekend. Top seeded Illini West cruised to victory with a 54-16 win over Pana. The visitors from Pana were out matched from the get go. The Chargers were lead by quarterback Zane Schmudlach, who had 77 rushing yards and three scores. Schmudlach also threw for another touchdown.
The Panthers could muster little offense against a strong Charger defense. Illini West outgained Pana 344-170 on the day in total yardage. Pana was led by Brett Amling's 76 yards and two scores.
In another decisive victory, Mt. Carmel stifled the Duquoin offensive attack with a 35-0 shutout. Shutouts are rare this late in playoffs, but the Golden Aces defense was up to the task, led by Tanner Crum. Mt. Carmel quarterback Alex Hale paced the offense with 137 yards rushing and a touchdown pass. Alex Kieffer chipped in 113 yards and touchdown of his own.
For Duquoin, Seth Baxter had 111 yards rushing. But the Duquoin offense couldn't muster up much offense after that as they were shut out a week after completing their own shutout. Mt. Carmel will move on to play Illini West in next Saturday's semifinal.
Upstart Mendota, 5-4 coming into the playoffs, looked to keep its dream season alive taking on Sandwich. The Indians were far too much for Mendota to handle as the Sandwich won the game 42-13.
In the game, the Indians P.J. Crotty had a big night. Crotty rushed for 60 yards and also had two touchdown receptions. Also making his presence felt was Justin Wegener who threw for two touchdown passes.
Mendota couldn't gain any momentum throughout the night. Leading rusher Evan Carroll rushed for 120 yards, but it was not enough as the Indians will move onto the next round.
In a battle of two undefeated teams, Rock Island Alleman and Richmond Burton went down to the wire on Saturday. Both teams carried big expectations into the game with neither facing many tests all season.
With less than a minute to go, Richmond Burton trailed by a touchdown, 21-14. Justin Quintana had just put the Pioneers up with a one yard plunge with 5:34 to go in the game. Richmond Burton drove 75 yards and completed several key fourth down opportunities to set up Adam Pittser's five yard strike to Tim Cleary. But on the ensuing extra point the kick sailed wide left, leaving the Rockets stunned in a 21-20 loss. Rock Island Alleman will now take on Sandwich in next week's semifinal.
At Pontiac, an anticipated showdown between the Indians and Metamora turned out to be more one-sided than most expected. Metamora kept the Pontiac defense on its heals as quarterback Michael Fay ran for 110 yards and 3 scores and also threw for 85 yards and a score. Throughout the day, the Pontiac defense could not contain Fay as he led Metamora to a 34-7 victory.
Leading the way for Pontiac was Chase Alford, who was limited to 50 yards on twenty carries. The senior tailback couldn't carry his team to victory as the Metamora defense was far too much to overcome.
In one of the more thrilling games this weekend, Rochester held onto defeat Quincy Notre Dame, setting up a semifinal rematch with Metamora next week. The Rockets were lead by Wes Lunt's arm in the game. Lunt threw for 205 yards and two scores. Both of those scores went to Zach Grant, who had 127 yards receiving and two touchdown catches.
Leading the QND attack was Kramer Barnes, who threw for 215 yards of his own. The QND offensive attack wasn't quite enough though. The Rocket defense forced five turnovers, and QND could not overcome its mistakes.