NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, DeKalb (Nov. 24, 25) — This year’s Illinois state title football games here this weekend were close and, in six of eight enrollment classes, could have gone either way at the end as emotions of players and fans, endlessly hopeful, went from grim to gleeful in just seconds.
The Class 6A game at 1 PM Saturday was perhaps the most anticipated match-up of the bunch, bringing to Huskie Stadium last year’s champion in the Wolves from Prairie Ridge and the champion from the previous two years in the Nazareth Roadrunners. (Because of the way enrollment determines the classification of schools for the football playoffs, Nazareth played in Class 5A for their state title in 2015 but in Class 6A in 2014 and this year.)
As for Class 5A right before that, Troy McAllister’s Wildcats from the Wendell Phillips Academy in Chicago won the state title two years ago, taking back the first football championship ever for a high school in the nation’s fourth-largest public school district since the Illinois High School Association started the state series in the sport back in 1974. Phillips won the state basketball title in that academic year, 43 years ago, but hadn’t won any other championship since then in any sport—until the Class 5A game two years ago.
The only first-time state champ in football crowned here this year was from Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School, coached by Mike Allen. The Falcons won in Class 2A on Friday, outscoring the Trojans from Maroa-Forsyth High School by just 6 points. GCMS, formerly known as Gibson City, won the music sweepstakes in 1982-83, 1984-85, 1990-91, and 1993-94.
Scores of the final games and previous football titles
- [1A] Lena-Winslow (2010, 2013) d. Tuscola, 21-20
- [2A] Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley d. Maroa-Forsyth (2006, 2012), 38-32
- [3A] Immaculate Conception (2002, 2008, 2016) d. Pleasant Plains, 35-0
- [4A] Rochester (2010–2014, 2016) d. Morris (1980, 1984, 2005), 24-21
- [5A] Phillips (2015) d. Dunlap, 33-7
- [6A] Prairie Ridge (2011, 2016) d. Nazareth (2014, 2015), 28-21
- [7A] Batavia (2013) d. Lake Zurich (2007), 21-14 (OT)
- [8A] Lincoln-Way East (2005*) d. Loyola (1993, 2015), 23-14
* Lincoln-Way High School won the state football title in Class 6A in 1997, before the school split into Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way East, but since East was actually a new school building, we didn’t list the title above.
The nervousness in the crowd at the end
In the Class 6A title game, players from both Prairie Ridge and Nazareth were, it would seem, more composed than the officials, who, at one point after a 78-yard Prairie Ridge punt return, which resulted in a touchdown, failed to notice an injured Roadrunner on the field until just a few seconds before the ball was snapped for the extra point. (The injured player was helped off the field moments later, and the play proceeded without incident.)
But the fans in the crowd, depending on how you look at it, got either excitement or edginess for their $10 ticket on both sides of the stadium. Prairie Ridge scored first, following a reverse on the opening kickoff. Nazareth answered. Except for a missed field goal from Prairie Ridge, the game went back and forth like that all the way to the end.
Prairie Ridge broke the game’s final tie in the hands of quarterback Samson Evans. Not only did he return the kickoff 38 yards to the Nazareth 38-yard line, but he also kept the ball on 7 of the 9 plays on the ensuing drive, running it into the end zone himself to put the Wolves up by 7. Fans were euphoric in the Wolves’ student section, as the game clock showed 1:01 remaining.
Nazareth didn’t field the kickoff that followed, which went into the end zone for a touchback, but they did complete a few passes, open some holes, and get to the Prairie Ridge 13-yard line, 1st and 10, with just a few seconds left in regulation.
The next play from Nazareth’s quarterback, Bobby Grimes, would be the culminating strike on this drive to tie the game (or go ahead with a 2-point conversion). One way or another, it seemed this would be it, as the Roadrunners were out of timeouts and quickly running out of time.
But the decision of whether to go for 1 or 2 never even came up, as Drew Norton intercepted Grimes’s pass in the end zone. The elation in the band and student section, temporarily on hold as their opponents steadily moved the ball down the field, erupted again.