A mid-day snow squall and 12-degree wind chills met fans and football teams Saturday as the Illinois High School Association football playoffs wrapped up and established the schools that will send their varsity squads to Champaign for the state finals Friday and Saturday.
One semifinal game in Class 8A was a rematch between two teams that are very familiar with championship rounds.
The Glenbard West Hilltoppers defeated Lincoln-Way East 10 years ago in the state’s Class 7A final, and the Hilltoppers won it again three years later. The team won the Class 5A title in 1983, but the IHSA only had six classes in football back then.
But this year was different when the Hilltoppers went from their home in Glen Ellyn to Frankfort to play the Griffins of Lincoln-Way East.
A spectacular rush by East’s quarterback, Braden Tischer, following a strong goal-line stand by his defensive counterparts, padded an already-commanding lead with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Griffins took over on downs at the half-yard line, and Tischer hoped to give his team some cushion. But he instead broke loose on a quarterback keeper on the first play of the series, escaped from a pile of players, eluded a tackle down the field, and carried the ball safely for 99 (plus) yards.
“You saw that Buffalo Bills game, and they dropped a snap,” the Daily Southtown quoted him as saying about the play. “You don’t want to fumble when your back is against the wall. You don’t want to fumble there. You want to take care of the football. It’s the most important thing.”
And he did, and more, on a slippery, snow-dusted artificial turf field. “I pushed and it opened up, and I sprinted as hard as I could,” he added.
His touchdown had little consequence in the final score—he had already completed two touchdown passes in what would be a 31-7 Griffin victory—but it put a punctuation mark on the afternoon.
State final games
In Class 1A, Lena-Winslow will face Central High School from Camp Point. Lena-Winslow won the Class 1A state title last year and in the fall seasons, before the pandemic, of 2019, 2017, 2013, and 2010. Central, so far, has not won an IHSA state title in any sport. Both teams go into the state final game undefeated.
In Class 2A, Tri-Valley High School from Downs will face St Teresa, which is in Decatur. Tri-Valley won the 2A title in 2015, and St Teresa last won the football state title in 1979, only a few years after the IHSA began sanctioning a state series in football. St Teresa is undefeated this season, being one of 32 teams that finished the regular season with 9-0 records.
In Class 3A, Immaculate Conception from Elmhurst will play Williamsville in one of four public-private match-ups in this year’s finals. Immaculate Conception has won the state title game five times in various classes: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2008, and 2002. In the 2008 title game, Olivia Vatch, the team’s kicker, became the first girl to score points in an Illinois state title game. Williamsville has a state title in Class 3A football to its credit in 2019.
In Class 4A, Providence Catholic from New Lenox will face Sacred Heart-Griffin from Springfield in the only private-private game. Providence is one of a few Illinois football dynasties, having amassed 10 state titles, with the most recent one being eight years ago: 2014, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1991, and 1987. Sacred Heart-Griffin also won its most recent state title in 2014, in Class 5A, with Providence’s title that year coming in Class 7A. SHG won state football titles four other years—2013, 2008, 2006, and 2005—and is undefeated this season.
In Class 5A, Nazareth Academy from LaGrange Park will play Peoria High School. Nazareth Academy won state titles in 2018, 2015, and 2014, and Peoria won the Class 5A title in 2016.
In Class 6A, Prairie Ridge from Crystal Lake will face East St Louis Senior High School. Prairie Ridge won the state title in 2017, 2016 (Class 6A), and 2011. East St Louis is an Illinois football dynasty, having won the state title games in 2019, 2016 (Class 7A), 2008, 1991, 1989, 1985, 1984, 1983, and 1979.
In Class 7A, Mt Carmel from Chicago will play Batavia. Chicago’s Mt Carmel High School, like Providence and East St Louis, is a football dynasty. Thirteen football championship trophies are in the currently undefeated school’s trophy case: 2019, 2013, 2012, 2002, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988, and 1980. Batavia has two: 2017 and 2013, when the Bulldogs played in Class 6A and Mt Carmel played in Class 7A.
In Class 8A, Lincoln-Way East will face Loyola Academy from Wilmette. Lincoln-Way East won the state football titles in 2019, 2017, and 2005, although Lincoln-Way High School, which was officially split into two separate high schools—Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way East—beginning in the 2001-02 school year, won the state title in 1997. Loyola won state titles in football in 2018, 2015, and 1993.
Across the state, the pandemic shifted school enrollments somewhat, putting some from higher classes into a lower class this season. For example, Providence Catholic won the state title in Class 5A in 2002, Class 6A in 2004, and Class 7A in 2014. They are now playing in Class 4A.
Further evidence of the enrollment shifts can be seen among the state final match-ups. Three classes—7A, 6A, and the aforementioned 4A—have final games between two schools that won previous titles in the same year but in different classes. Enrollment shifts have now put these schools in the same class.