EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. -- A year ago the Glenbard West Hilltoppers claimed the Class 7A championship.
With the way they performed Saturday in a 38-21 quarterfinal victory over the Edwardsville Tigers, there is no reason to believe the Hilltoppers won't be adding a Class 8A championship trophy to their collection Thanksgiving weekend in Champaign.
While the Hilltoppers rushed for 192 yards, it was their passing game that seemed to make the difference against the Tigers. Senior quarterback Cole Brady threw for 280 yards and probably the two biggest scores of the game.
The bulk of those passes were caught by 6-foot-4 receiver Alec Pierce and 6-5 tight end Alex Pihlstrom, whose size caused all kinds of trouble for Edwardsville's smaller defensive backs.
Pierce had 5 catches for 145 yards, including a 45-yard scoring catch just 47 seconds before halftime. That TD put the Hilltoppers ahead 17-14 at the break.
Pihlstrom had 4 catches for 69 yards, topped by a 25-yard scoring catch that capped Glenbard West's first possession of the second half and gave the Hilltoppers (10-2) a lead that would never sink below double digits.
"We're a running team, that's our preference, but we can pass the ball especially with play action," Brady said. "We knew their secondary was a little bit smaller, so we knew the chance was there for them to make some plays.
"Those two were unreal."
Brady, who completed 14 of his 18 pass attempts, certainly impressed Edwardsville coach Matt Martin.
"He's a player, a good decision maker, has a strong arm," Martin said. "He saw the advantage they had and put the ball where his receivers could catch it.
"There were some balls we should have batted down, but they made the plays. Hat's off to them."
Despite allowing a touchdown on the game's opening drive, a Dre Thomas 2-yard TD run capped 6-play 63-yard march for the Hilltoppers, Edwardsville still found itself owning a 14-10 lead in the second quarter.
The Tigers sandwiched an 8-yard scoring run by Dionte Rodgers and 17-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Brenden Dickmann to Dayleon Harris around a 36-yard field goal by the Hilltoppers' Logan Ryan for their lead.
But with five minutes left in the half Brady directed the Hilltoppers on an 80-yard drive that ended with him connecting with Pierce on a 45-yard score where the big receiver found himself alone behind the Edwardsville secondary.
"That was huge," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "We had that fumbled punt early that led to their first score and we kind of got the momentum back with that one. It was a big one going into halftime."