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Last season Wheaton Warrenville South's football team made its 10th trip to the state title game.
Trip No. 11 might be the most impressive. It's certainly the most unexpected.
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The Tigers again stunned just about everyone but themselves by beating St. Rita 21-14 in the Class 7A semifinals Saturday in Chicago.
Ninth-seeded WW South -- after beating the No. 1 seed, No. 5 seed and No. 3 seed all on the road -- will take a nine-game winning streak to Champaign in search of the program's eighth state title.
The two-time defending 7A champion Tigers (10-3) will face Rockford Boylan (13-0), last year's 6A champion, at 4 p.m. Saturday.
It's the first time WW South, which opened the season 1-3, will take a three-loss team to the final.
"We're shocking a lot of people," said Tigers running back Dan Vitale. "We always knew we had it in ourselves. A lot of other people didn't, but we always knew we had it."
The wind played a major part in the outcome, particularly in the first quarter when the Tigers had the heavy breeze at their backs. A 14-0 first-quarter lead grew to 21-0 early in the second quarter.
St. Rita (10-3) rallied with touchdowns at the end of the first half and midway through the fourth quarter, but the Tigers' Mark Rooney recovered a fumble at the Mustangs' 24-yard line with 1:51 left to seal the win.
"The wind was a big factor tonight," said Tigers linebacker Adam Dansdill. "It's hard to pass and hard to punt against the wind. For the offense to get three scores early on, that was huge."
St. Rita opened with a three-and-out and a 19-yard punt, setting up the Tigers at the Mustangs' 38. Eight plays later, including a 16-yard pass from Thaddeus Armstrong to Vitale, the Northwestern-bound running back capped the drive with a 1-yard dive and a 7-0 lead.
Kyle Kyllonen picked off St. Rita quarterback Scott Thomas, who threw for 113 yards, on the next possession. Set up at the Mustangs' 6, Vitale -- a workhorse with 33 carries for 121 yards -- scored from 3 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
WW South's next possession started at its own 31, but the Tigers rattled off seven straight runs highlighted by Vitale's 43-yard dash. He notched his third touchdown on a 3-yard run to put WW South ahead 21-0.
St. Rita finally got decent field position with the wind late in the second quarter. The Mustangs marched 54 yards in the waning minutes of the half and narrowed the gap to 21-7 on Thomas' 5-yard pass to Kenny Golladay.
Field position dictated the second half. WW South managed to take 7:07 off the clock against the wind to start the third quarter.
Even though the Tigers didn't score, they forced the Mustangs to start at their own 9 and 17 on their first two second-half possessions. St. Rita embarked upon an 18-play, 83-yard drive that ate up 6:15 of the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs pulled within 21-14 on another Thomas-to-Golladay 8-yard touchdown pass, but only 4:38 remained on the clock.
The Tigers drained more than two minutes off the clock on their next possession, helped by a huge 26-yard third-down pass from sophomore Jordan Davis to Corey Davis. Jordan Davis played the entire second half after Armstrong went down with what coach Ron Muhitch said might be a concussion.
With backup quarterback Ryan Graham already sidelined with a knee injury, the Tigers turned to Jordan Davis, the quarterback of this year's sophomore team.
"I'm proud of how far these kids have come," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "We've won games this year differently than any other year I've been in coaching, and that's a credit to the kids."