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updated: 10/14/2016 11:19 PM

Willowbrook is going back to the playoffs

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By Matt LeCren
Daily Herald Correspondent

Khalif Copeland wasn't at Willowbrook when the Warriors missed the football playoffs last season despite a 5-4 record.

The transfer from Florida wants his new teammates to experience the joys of playing in the postseason as he did the past two years.

Thanks in part to Copeland, the Warriors will do just that after knocking off host Downers Grove South 31-7 in West Suburban Conference Gold Division action Friday night.

Willowbrook (6-2, 4-1) clinched a playoff berth for the third time in five years but first since 2013.

"It's just a big step forward we took as a team and coming together as a united unit is just amazing," Copeland said. "It just gets better. Every game it gets better."

It doesn't get much better than what Copeland did as time expired in the first half. The senior receiver caught a 34-yard touchdown pass on a tipped ball in the end zone to give the Warriors a 17-0 lead.

Quarterback M.J. Ranieri rolled to his right to escape pressure and lofted a fade into the end zone to Jonathan Kelso, who had the ball bounce off his hands but straight to Copeland.

"I was just running," Copeland said. "I thought (Kelso) was going to catch it, then I see it and I just made a play and caught it."

The play took the air out of Downers South (2-6, 2-3), which had hung tough until that point.

"The tipped pass was huge," Willowbrook senior receiver Mike Dembowski said. "It couldn't have played out any better than that right before the half.

"M.J., our quarterback, made a great play to keep that play alive and Kelso tipped it up. 'Tank' made a great catch in the end zone."

Dembowski, who had opened the scoring by kicking a 32-yard field goal early in the second quarter, put the game out of reach when he hauled in a 67-yard fade from Ranieri down the left sideline to make it 24-0 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.

Ranieri completed 11 of 16 passes for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jack Jessen rushed for 111 yards on 28 carries, including touchdown runs of 2 and 3 yards for the Warriors, who can clinch a share of their first WSC Gold title by beating Leyden next week.

Willowbrook last won a conference title in 1982 when it was part of the Des Plaines Valley League.

"Playoffs has always been an expectation, but it feels great," Dembowski said. "Our team is happy."

Downers South averted the shutout when Parker Smith tossed a 17-yard TD pass to John Coyne with 26 seconds left in the game.

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