CHAMPAIGN -- Cary-Grove's discipline was trumped by Crete-Monee's athleticism, particularly that of senior LaQuon Treadwell.
The highly coveted, 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver/linebacker broke loose for two long scoring plays, and he intercepted a Cary-Grove pass deep in his own territory to spark the Warriors to a 33-26 victory over the comeback-minded Trojans in the Class 6A state title game at Memorial Field Saturday.
"He is tremendous, as good as advertised, maybe even better," Cary-Grove linebacker Zach Marszal said of Treadwell, who is weighing offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Florida, among many. "He's got the speed, the size. He's just a phenomenal football player. There are reasons he's so highly talked about."
Crete-Monee (14-0) won its first state championship by holding off a determined squad from Cary-Grove (13-1) that sought its second state championship since 2009. The Trojans were instead forced to settle for their second runner-up finish since 2004.
The complexion of a close game changed in a 1:50 span of the third quarter. Cary-Grove had just pulled within 21-16 on Ryan Mahoney's circuslike, 24-yard touchdown reception from Quinn Baker and seized further momentum when defensive lineman Mickey Duncan forced a Treadwell fumble at the Crete-Monee 21-yard line on a screen pass.
The run-heavy Trojans tried to capitalize by striking quickly through the air, a tactic used after turnovers on multiple occasions earlier this season. Treadwell would have none of it. He made up for his fumble by picking off Baker's pass intended for Marszal at his own 11-yard line and returning it 22 yards.
"I kind of figured they were going to try to hit us with something we weren't expecting," Treadwell said. "Once I saw (Marszal) release, I knew it wasn't a normal release. I kind of paused for a second to adjust to the run, but once I saw him run out, I knew the ball was coming that way and I just attacked the ball."
"He made some plays that we've never seen people make," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said of Treadwell. "The interception he made in the third quarter was pretty unbelievable. He was up at the line of scrimmage, then dropped underneath our out route and made a play."
After a 15-yard Cary-Grove penalty was tacked on, Crete-Monee went for the throat on the next play. Senior quarterback Marcus Terrell spotted Lance Lenoir streaking down the right hash marks and hit the wide-open receiver for a 52-yard touchdown pass and a 27-16 lead.
Another Cary-Grove turnover moments later put the Trojans in a deeper hole. With Mahoney now sidelined due to quadriceps spasms, Baker attempted to pitch the ball to backup running back Joey Scott, but the timing was slightly off and the ball rolled free. Crete-Monee junior Deon Benton scooped up the bouncing ball at the 5-yard line and carried it in for a touchdown that put the Warriors on top 33-16 with 2:51 left in the third quarter.
It was the fourth turnover of the game for the Trojans, who entered the title game with only 14 turnovers in 13 previous outings.
"That changed things a lot," Seaburg said of Benton's touchdown, "but even though we turned the ball over, we never felt like we were out of it when we were down by 17."
Missing Mahoney and starting lineman Trevor Ruhland (knee) for the entire fourth quarter, the Trojans fought their way back into the game. They embarked on a 13-play drive that covered 70 yards in 4:13, capped by Baker's 2-yard keeper with 10:34 left. Garrett Glueck's point-after kick trimmed the deficit to 33-23 with 10:38 left.
After the Cary-Grove defense forced a punt, the offense marched again, though the 10-play drive bogged down at the 12. Glueck's 30-yard field goal, his second of the game and third of the season, pulled Cary-Grove within 33-26 with 3:02 remaining.
The Trojans' ensuing onside kick was recovered by -- who else? -- Treadwell, but the Cary-Grove defense forced a three-and-out punt to give the offense one more chance.
Starting at their own 20-yard line, the Trojans were unable to mount a final threat. Two short carries by Baker were stuffed and 2 passes -- the last intended for Marszal over the middle on fourth-and-8 from the Cary-Grove 22-yard line -- fell incomplete.
Crete-Monee regained possession with 52 seconds left and knelt twice to finish the season as state champs.
"I feel kind of sad that we couldn't pull it off, but I'm happy we were able to make a run like this," said fulback Kyle Norberg, who led Cary-Grove with 121 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. "Second place is good. We didn't get first, but I guess that's just how it goes sometimes. The better team won."
Crete-Monee launched the game's first salvo. Once the Warriors forced Cary-Grove to punt after 3 plays, Treadwell took a pitch to the right side and burst down the right sideline. He cut back at the 20 to avoid a pursuing Marszal and scampered untouched into the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown with just 2:23 elapsed. However, a bad snap led to a missed extra point attempt by Treadwell, leaving the Warriors with a 6-0 lead.
The Trojans halved the deficit on their ensuing possession, a 13-play drive that covered 66 yards in just over six minutes and culminated in Glueck's 32-yard field goal. Cary-Grove twice converted fourth downs to keep the drive alive on runs by Norberg and Mahoney.
Following a Crete-Monee three and out, Cary-Grove moved 54 yards in 11 plays to the Warriors' 12-yard line, but Mahoney was hit behind the line while trying to reverse field and fumbled the ball. Defensive tackle Jonathan Schultz recovered for Crete-Monee with 7:56 left in the second quarter.
The Warriors capitalized by traversing 78 yards in 13 plays. Terrell kept that drive alive with an 11-yard scramble on third-and-10 at the Cary-Grove 42. He subsequently spotted senior DeShawn Duncan on a slant pattern for a juggling, 9-yard touchdown catch. Treadwell then took a direct snap, sprinted to his right and bulled his way past a defender for the 2-point conversion and a 14-3 lead with 4:30 to play.
The Cary-Grove offense made amends for its first turnover and took some momentum into halftime after Norberg capped a 9-play, 59-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge with 11 seconds remaining in the half.
The second half began much like the first with a big play from Treadwell. Terrell rolled right on third-and-5 and hit Treadwell 15-yards downfield on an out pattern. Treadwell did the rest, breaking two arm tackles and racing up the right sideline for a 57-yard touchdown. Treadwell's extra point staked the Warriors to a 21-10 lead just 1:05 into the third quarter.
The Trojans fumbled the ball on their next possession when Norberg (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) was met head on in a massive collision with Crete-Monee inside linebacker Nyles Morgan (6-3, 215).
Defensive end Chris Slayton recovered the ball, but the Warriors didn't keep it for long. Cary-Grove regained possession when safety Kasey Fields jumped a route and intercepted Terrell's pass intended for Lenoir at the Cary-Grove 47-yard line.
The Trojans converted that turnover to points in style when Mahoney made his circus catch off the back of a defender for a 24-yard touchdown. The failed 2-point conversion try left the Warriors with a 21-16 lead.