The last two IHSA playoff games were held Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Champaign in Classes 7A and 8A. The 7A contest featured two teams who have been here many times before while the 8A game showcased two teams who hadn’t made it this far in quite some time.
No strangers to championship games, Cary-Grove and Providence Catholic were more than ready to lock horns in the 7A finale. Cary-Grove put its vaunted rushing attack into action as they drove the opening possession near midfield before fumbling away a completed pass in Providence territory. The Celtics took advantage as QB Justin Hunniford’s passing and Richie Warfield’s running led them down the field. On fourth down at the Trojan one, Warfield bulled his way to the score and it was 7-0. The first quarter ended that way although Cary-Grove was right back on the move.
RB Tyler Pennington spearheaded a drive deep into Celtic territory when signal caller Jason Gregoire made a nice fake to him at the 25 and scooted around left end to the end zone which tied things up after the extra point. After forcing a Providence punt, the Trojans pounded it down the field with Gregoire scoring again, this time on the option from nine yards out with 1:24 left in the first half. It appeared Cary-Grove was in control.
Providence got in gear and found themselves with first and goal at the Trojan five with 15 seconds left. Facing a fourth down, they booted a field goal as time expired to close it to 14-10 and carry some momentum into the locker room.
The Celtics kept it up as they dominated the third quarter. Warfield capped the opening drive with a five yard score to give the Celtics the lead at 17-14. Cary-Grove couldn’t sustain anything and punted to the Providence three yard line. Undaunted, and aided by a remarkable pass out of the end zone to the 39 from Hunniford to Miles Boykin for some breathing room, the Celtics drove 97 yards and Warfield punched it over from the one for a ten point lead as the third quarter ended.
Cary-Grove was not about to give up as they went on a 13 play, 65 yard scoring march capped by Pennington’s five yard plunge to pull within three points at the 7:17 mark. These two heavyweight teams weren’t done as it wasn’t long before Warfield burst off right tackle to score from 44 yards and Providence was ahead, 31-21 with 6:05 left. The Trojans steadily drove again, this time 91 yards in 15 plays and pulled to 31-28 with 1:30 left. But after an unsuccessful onside kick attempt followed by Warfield making a key first down, Providence was able to run out the clock and take home the title.
Stevenson and Homewood-Flossmoor would tee it up in the 8A game to finish off the weekend’s action. Both downed powerhouse opposition to get here. The Vikings from H-F didn’t seem to be suffering from any butterflies while taking an early 7-0 lead on Deante Harley-Hampton’s three yard touchdown run. The drive was highlighted by a 48 yard bomb from Bryce Gray to James Sheehan. Stevenson was ready to go on their first possession also as Jack Joseph was tearing up huge chunks of yardage in leading the Patriots down inside the Viking ten. QB Willie Bourbon completed a key fourth down conversion toss to Cameron Greer to keep things alive at the six and Joseph bulled in from the one to tie up the game.
Stevenson was back in business as the second quarter began after Bourbon hit James Sorenson with a 47 yard pass to the H-F eleven yard line. H-F’s defense stiffened at that point and the Patriots kicked a 28 yard field goal to go up 10-7. H-F tied it with a 28 yarder of their own after the Harley-Hampton twins led a nice drive for the Vikings with their running and receiving.
Both quarterbacks had each offense running smoothly in this one and Willie Bourbon made big plays with his arm and feet as Stevenson was next and mounted a 65 yard scoring drive. Joseph got his second touchdown of the day from two yards out after a key play in which Kendrick Pryor intercepted Bourbon in the end zone, but was flagged for interference on a close call. There was 2:37 left in the half and Bryce Gray mimicked Bourbon with big plays of his own, but H-F stalled deep at the Patriot end of the field to close out the half trailing, 17-10.
The teams traded punts to start the third quarter and after the Patriots took over on the Vikings’43 yard line, it took just four plays and little over a minute before Tyler Vincent ran in for a four yard score which put his team up 24-10. It looked at this point like Stevenson might be starting to have their way, but H-F would have none of that in this tightly contested slug fest.
Taking the ball from their own 26 and using a nicely balanced attack, the Vikings were inside the five yard line when Devonte Harley-Hampton took a direct snap from center into the end zone. The extra point was missed and it was 24-16 as the third period wound down.
A fair catch interference call against H-F early in the fourth put Stevenson in Patriots territory and they proceeded to ride the Tyler Vincent horse down inside the 20. Bourbon went in from 13 yards out on a nice quarterback draw and it was 31-16 at the 6:26 mark. H-F drove impressively on their next possession, but had used up valuable clock time when Deante Harley-Hampton was stopped a half yard short of the goal line on fourth down. H-F players and fans were dejected, but not for long as one of the more improbable and exciting finishes in IHSA history was about to unfold.
The Patriots snapped the ball inside their one yard line with just over two minutes left and the Vikings Justin Chu tackled the runner in the end zone for a safety. Now it was 31-18 and H-F got the ball at their 49 after the free kick. Gray found Pryor down to the 14 and then Jared Sharp in the end zone and, all of a sudden, it was 31-25 with 1:58 left. It was bedlam at Memorial Stadium.
The Vikings attempted a mid range, squib kick which took a crazy bounce off a Patriot player and H-F came out of the ensuing scrum with the ball at the Stevenson 18 yard line. The play of the game came on fourth and one at the nine as Deante Harley-Hampton burst through the line to the six for an apparent first down, but coughed up the ball to Stevenson. The Patriots were thus, at last, able to run out the clock and take the 8A title in a game that will be talked about for a long time to come.