IL has football champs in classes 1A to 4A

The Illinois High School Association football finals took place today for enrollment classes 1A through 4A at Champaign’s Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus, the News-Gazette reports.

Class 1A: Forreston d. Decatur (St Teresa), 35-7


AJ Christensen and Denny Diduch of Forreston talk with reporters (NFHS Network)

We expected an explosion out of the gate for the state’s Class 1A football championship game. St Teresa (12-1), for one, has outscored their opponents 413-48 in first quarter this season, and most of Forreston’s (13-0) victories were won in the first half of play as well.

But the game was scoreless at the end of the first quarter, thanks to strong defensive play by both teams, including a goal-line stand by Forreston that kept St Teresa out of the end zone after they had converted a fourth down earlier in the drive with a picturesque 16-yard pass.

But then it opened up. Forreston scored first when Sam Barkalow, who broke away past St Teresa’s safety to catch a picturesque play action pass from quarterback Hunter Daws, who typically throws the ball only a few times a game. The 54-yard pass completion came with 7:26 left in second quarter.

St Teresa was next, scoring on a 67-yard Ryan Fife pass to Simon Brinkoetter. Fife’s sixth touchdown pass of the season was essentially a jump ball but just as effective in getting into the end zone.

On the ensuing kickoff, Forreston’s AJ Christensen fielded the ball on a bounce at the 7-yard line and ran it back 93 yards for a touchdown after he broke off a few tackles. With 5:42 left in the first half, Forreston was up 14-7.

At this point, momentum started to shift Forreston’s way, as they repeated the goal-line stand they had earlier again at the end of the second quarter.

Christensen had another touchdown run in the third quarter, padding the lead for his team eventually up to 35-7.

Forreston, coached by Denny Diduch, won the state title two years ago and does it again this year with an undefeated season. St Teresa, coached here by Mark Ramsey, won three state titles in football back in the 70s: 1974, 1975, and 1979.

Class 2A: Mackinaw (Deer Creek-Mackinaw) d. Maroa (Maroa-Forsyth), 35-7

Dee-Mack (12-1) has only been to the football state title game once before, in 1987. And the 20 seniors on this year’s team wanted to accomplish what the ’87 squad couldn’t quite finish: winning the championship game.

“When we’re on offense, I think we really have to establish our physicalness,” the Bloomington Pantagraph quoted coach Job Linboom as saying. “They’re a little bit smaller defense than they’ve had in the past, smaller than we’ve seen this year. We’ve got to establish that power running game and not have any turnovers.”

And so they did, powering into the end zone on a 2-yard surge by Jared Reese to score the game’s first touchdown. With that 10-play drive, which clearly demonstrated the “physicalness” of the offensive line, Dee-Mack took a 7-0 lead.

Compare Dee-Mack’s history in the title game with that of their opponent, Maroa-Forsyth (12-1), a team playing in its sixth 2A title game in the past 11 seasons. If they had won, it would have been their third championship under coach Josh Jostes.

A short Derrick Baker pass to tight end Alex Kerner capped off a powerful 15-play 46-yard drive and gave Dee-Mack a 14-0 lead just as the second quarter opened.

But then Maroa-Forsyth answered with Deondre Gregory’s end-round run for his ninth touchdown of the season from the 4-yard line. With 8:47 left in the first half, Maroa-Forsyth was within a touchdown, but the first half ended with Dee-Mack having the strong momentum.

Special teams upped the excitement level of the game midway through the third quarter, as a muffed punt gave Maroa-Forsyth the ball just 25 yards away from their goal line. The first play of the drive, an airborne spiral that floated just off Gregory’s fingertips, was all they could muster, though, and Dee-Mack took over on downs after just four plays.

And when they took over, they marched down the field, scoring a touchdown on Reese’s powerful 2-yard rush just under the left tackle behind an offensive line that, once again, showed great strength. His second touchdown of the game, at the end of this 12-play, 73-yard drive, took Dee-Mack to a 21-7 lead.

That’s where the third quarter ended, but Dee-Mack added another touchdown to take a 28-7 lead, as Reese ran it into the end zone again with a little more than 5 minutes left in the game. To get there, Caleb Scott ran his second interception of the game back to the Maroa-Forsyth 13-yard line.

Things just weren’t going Maroa-Forsyth’s way, and Dee-Mack was on their way to their first state title in football. On the next drive, for example, Dee-Mack intercepted another pass, running it back to the Maroa-Forsyth 34-yard line. This one, Dee-Mack’s third interception of the game, came to senior Nick DeBolt.

Kerner added yet another Dee-Mack touchdown with a 34-yard pass reception, his second touchdown reception of the afternoon, bringing the game to its final score, 35-7.

Dee-Mack has won two state titles in girls’ volleyball (2012, 2014), but this championship marks the school’s first state title in any other sport.

Class 3A: Elmhurst (IC Catholic) d. Carlinville, 43-0

The 3A title game this year started out bad for Carlinville (12-1) and didn’t get any better. IC Catholic (13-0) led 15-0 within the first minute of play and never gave up a point.

After scoring a touchdown on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Luke Ricobene to Matt Sutton on the first drive of the game, IC kicked off, making sort of a pooch kick out of it. Carlinville special teams players seemed to have some miscommunication as to who should pick up the live ball. That hesitation allowed IC to pick it up, and one play later, Lazerick Eatman took it 22 yards into the end zone.

A bright spot for Carlinville was running back Jacob Dixon, who passed the 3,000-yard mark on the season with a rush from his own 4-yard line to the 20 when the Cavaliers finally got the ball after IC Catholic’s second touchdown.

But the brightness quickly faded. On IC Catholic’s next two possessions, Jordan Rowell carried the ball into the end zone for two additional touchdowns. With four possessions, then, the Knights had scored four touchdowns. The half ended with them leading 29-0.

Ricobene connected with Rowell for a 22-yard pass reception with 7:20 left in the third quarter, and Rowell made another touchdown on a 65-yard run with less than a minute left in the third quarter, bringing the score to 43-0 and causing officials to run the clock continuously from that point forward.

The team at IC Catholic, coached by Bill Krefft, wins its third state title in football (2002, 2008). Rowell unofficially had 265 rushing yards on the game, a record for a state title game in Class 3A. Carlinville is coached by Chad Easterday.

Class 4A: Rochester d. Johnsburg, 38-14

Johnsburg (13-0) head coach Dan DeBoeuf told the State Journal-Register that his team’s running back Alex Peete is “a tough person to prepare for. He just takes over the game. He’s had 400-yard games.”

But evidence in the state’s final 4A game, in which the Skyhawks played the Rockets from Rochester High School (12-1), suggests that, at least in the second half, Peete can be stopped.

Rochester struck first on a 63-yard pass completion on a third-and-long from quarterback Nic Baker to Avante’ Cox, just over a minute and a half into the game. It was pretty.

Then the Rockets scored again, on a 24-yard pass with the same end points, coming with 4:18 remaining in the first quarter.

Johnsburg came back to score two touchdowns of their own, as Peete rushed into the end zone from the 22- and 13-yard lines, first near the end of the first quarter and second with 7:15 remaining in the second.

At this point, with a 14-14 tie, the game appeared headed for a trading match, touchdown for touchdown—or two.

Then Rochester scored a touchdown on a 40-yard completion from Baker to Cox’s brother, D’Ante Cox, coming on the drive right after what would be Johnsburg’s last score of the game.

Rochester added two more touchdowns, one in the last minutes of the first half and one in the fourth quarter. The Rockets then added a 24-yard field goal with 9 minutes left in the game to take the lead, 38-14.

After the field goal, Rochester kicked off leading to a Johnsburg drive that took the team down to the 6-yard line on the strength of Peete’s running and a 44-yard pass completion from Riley Buchanan to Conner Bell.

“Everyone talks about the running game,” DeBoeuf was quoted as saying. “We can throw.”

A shoestring tackle by Ben Grimes was the only thing that kept Johnsburg out of the end zone on that one, and then a few plays later, Rochester’s Skylor Caruso intercepted his second pass of the day in the end zone.

This game marked Johnsburg’s first appearance in a football title game. Rochester, coached by Derek Leonard, wins its sixth state title in football in seven years (2010–2014, 2016). The girls’ soccer team at Rochester is also something the school takes great pride in: the team has won three state titles in that sport (2008, 2015, 2016).

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.