The first was the de facto 5A championship between Joliet Catholic and host Montini. I arrived about two hours early for the 1:00 kickoff only to find a line of people waiting to get in. I asked a woman if it was sold out and she said, "No, we're not even going to sell tickets until 11:30." (My backup plan, Lincoln-Way West at Sycamore, would not be necessary.)
I parked the car and got in the queue.
"Is this the line for tickets?" I asked the couple in front of me, stupidly.
"I hope so."
We chatted for a few minutes and the conversation inevitably turned to Mike Ivlow, the star running back for Joliet Catholic who transferred in last year as a junior. The guy told me that Ivlow's old coach from Minooka told him he'd never play there. "He said he was 'too soft and too slow.' " Ouch.
As I was watching the teams warm up before the game, I wondered about the wisdom of the various exercises and drills. What value, for example, do jumping jacks have? Couldn't you play just as well without having done them? But I noticed one drill which came in handy late in the game. A Montini coach would throw the ball and while one player would deliberately tip it up in the air, the one behind him would catch it. Foreshadowing.
The contest itself was one of the best of the day, as I'm sure you've read by now. Mike Ivlow scored all three touchdowns for the Hilltoppers, finishing the season with 2,580 yards and 32 TDs. Wow. Joliet Catholic was leading at the half, 7-6, but I noticed an ominous tweet from @JCHILLTOPPERS:
If only first halfs counted, JCA would be 4-0 vs Broncos all time.
Montini indeed came back in the second half, scoring with 4:11 remaining in the game on a tipped pass, to make it 21-20. (See? That one drill was really worth it.) I would have sworn that Broncos' quarterback Alex Wills, who was scrambling for his life, tried to throw the ball out of bounds. A JCA defender tipped it, however, into the waiting hands of receiver Stephen Dennis, who ran it in for the score. Montini went for two and won the game, 22-21.
And I thought, you really have to give credit to Coach Chris Andriano. That was a gutsy move. In the Tribune he was quoted as saying:
"We gotta do that. We don't ever back away from that. We got the momentum there, we're home. We just have to put the icing on it."
I guess that's what you'd expect from one of the winningest coaches in Illinois who's trying to capture his fifth 5A championship in a row.
But not all of the excitement was on the field. There was a guy sitting in front of me who kept telling everyone else to sit down. Imagine; people standing up at a football game! When one of the guys in front of him got exasperated with his constant hectoring I thought I was going to have to break up a fight. Whoa!
The teams had trouble doing much of anything in the first half and the visiting Phoenix was leading, 6-0, at intermission. I even contemplated leaving but thought better of it. And it's a good thing too, because Bulldogs' quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers scored with 1:42 remaining in the game and then again in overtime to win, 12-6. (This was the guy, remember, that Coach Tony Sheehan chose to play ahead of Iowa State-bound Tommy Mister, who transferred to St. Rita for his senior year.)
Didn't get to see Muhammad-Rogers play this year? No worries; he's only a junior so you can still see him next year. You can't, however, watch Phoenix running back Julian Hylton anymore, unless he sees some action down at Illinois. And, really, I would have liked to have seen both of these guys under more normal weather conditions. The rain and wind really hindered play on Saturday night.
But, as I said, I saw two excellent games over the weekend (finally) and can't wait for the semifinals this Saturday.