A much greater loss than one earlier this season gave Montini some extra inspiration for Saturday night's Class 5A football quarterfinal rematch at unbeaten Marian Central.
Last Sunday Montini sophomore football player Johnny Weiger lost a battle with leukemia that began a year ago. One of the posters hanging from the front of the visitors' stands at George Harding Field said, "Johnny Always Wins." And for the fourth straight year, Montini didn't lose when it faced Marian in the postseason as the three-time defending 5A champion overcame an early 14-point deficit for a 42-27 victory.
"They really played inspired football tonight with that on their minds," said Montini coach Chris Andriano.
"Johnny was definitely our 12th man on the field and he was with us throughout the whole game," said senior Mark Gorogianis, who rushed for 240 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 8 carries as part of Montini's quarterback trio with Alex Wills and Joey Borsellino. "His strength was behind all of us and we all wanted to make him proud."
The third-seeded Broncos (10-2) also showed the pride that has made them one of the state's premier programs as Wills completed 6 of 8 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown to Dimitri Taylor. They finished with 523 total yards and minimized the damage by Marian quarterback Chris Streveler to set up next weekend's semifinal rematch of last year's 5A title game at No. 9 Joliet Catholic (8-4), a 21-20 overtime winner against Lincoln-Way West.
"We got off to a really bad start, and I was worried we might turtle up and go into a shell," Andriano said of falling behind 14-0 in the opening 7:31. "But our kids fought back and bounced back and showed the heart of champions."
Streveler hit Ephraim Lee for a 20-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal. After a lost fumble, Lee raced 12 yards into the end zone as Marian picked up where it left off after scoring the last 42 points in its 49-24 win in Week 7.
"We kept our minds mentally and we executed," said senior Fred Beaugard as he and fellow defensive end Dylan Thompson helped keep the dangerous Streveler's longest play to 26 yards.
Gorogianis, who didn't play quarterback in the first meeting, scored on runs of 24 and 28 yards to tie the game. Streveler's 1-yard run capped an 87-yard drive to put Marian (11-1) up 21-14 with 1:52 left in the half. But Montini went 65 yards in five plays and 1:19 behind Phillip Kesik, Patrick Strzempek, Anthony Ferraro, David Sarkan and Tate Briggs.
Wills found Taylor over the middle for a tying 26-yard score. And on the second play of the second half, Gorogianis' 49-yard touchdown run put Montini ahead to stay.
"Our offensive coordinator (Lewis Borsellino) had an outstanding game plan and we executed perfectly," Gorogianis said. "Our offense has so many weapons with (Taylor) and Joey, and Alex has a great arm."
Montini continued to keep the heat on Streveler and James Maloney deflected a pass, which Tucker Mucha intercepted at his 16 and returned 27 yards.
"I felt really good and I just couldn't get it done," Streveler said.
"We wanted to keep the outside contain because (Streveler) likes to jump outside," Beaugard said. "We let him do too much the first time and he killed us. We wanted to make sure we hit him."
Gorogianis' 7-yard run made it 35-21 with 2:02 left in the third. Streveler hit Faunce for a 2-yard touchdown with 5:51 left but Montini answered with Gorogianis going 16 yards to set the final score at 3:34.
"This time we knew our offense had to keep it on them throughout the whole game," Gorogianis said. "This game in the second half we scored the big touchdown and kept going from there and wore them out."