MONTICELLO, Ill. -- The key to beating IC Catholic Prep is stopping the running game. No team has yet, and now the Knights are headed downstate.
Saturday on Monticello's choppy grass field Jordan Rowell ran 31 times for 302 yards and 4 touchdowns and Lazerick Eatman added 160 yards on 21 carries. No. 1 seed IC Catholic beat the sixth-seeded Sages 48-6 to advance to the Class 3A championship next week in Champaign against Carlinville, a 27-21 semifinal victor over North Mac.
"For me, since this is my first time ever doing anything this big, I'm so happy," said Rowell, 9 yards off his personal-high 311 yards against Breese Mater Dei on Sept. 6, 2014.
"I lose words for how happy I am. I just can't believe that we're going to state, you know?" said Rowell, whose 5,760 varsity yards rushing ranks eighth in state history.
"It's an unbelievable feeling for us and all the seniors who've worked for four years for this moment," said two-way lineman Jim Kenneally, part of a physical defensive unit that held 3,100-yard passer Caleb Hanson to 10-of-30 passing for 109 yards with Knights interceptions by Matt Sutton and Ryan Malek.
"We had probably our most difficult time throwing the ball we've had this year, and I give them a lot of credit defensively," said Monticello coach Cully Welter. "They were able to force us to be a little bit more pinpoint than we've had to be in previous games, and we just didn't have our best day in that area."
ICCP (13-0) overcame Jack Lienhart's interception on the second play from scrimmage, setting up the Sages' sole score. Monticello (12-1) took over at ICCP's 26-yard line and Hanson's 2-yard run gave the Sages a 6-0 lead at 10:35 of the first quarter.
The Knights immediately retaliated on the first of Rowell's two 8-yard rushing touchdowns in the first half. Sam Buffo's kick for a 7-6 Knights lead at 9:43 of the first quarter was a lead they'd never relinquish.
With 4:17 before halftime Knights quarterback Luke Ricobene looked left and threw back right for a 15-yard touchdown pass to Matt Sutton, and ICCP took a 20-6 halftime lead.
Rowell and Eatman each played cornerback and guarded top Monticello receivers Isiah Florey and Nathan Graham, holding them to a combined 6 receptions for 41 yards. To lessen their load they took turns gashing holes through the Sages' defense behind linemen Ricky Mysliwiec, Ryan Kenneally, Robert Vitek, Dylan Packer and Jim Kenneally. ICCP gained 29 first downs.
"I was being patient and letting the holes develop and just going with it," Eatman said. "Because of the zone (read option), we just are patient and let the offense develop, trust our linemen."
Rowell went 35 yards untouched for a 27-6 lead on ICCP's first possession of the third quarter. Khali Saunders' sack squelched Monticello's long answering drive to the Knights' 5-yard line.
Fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Rowell, Jake Lytton and Dan Gibbons created a snowball effect that propelled ICCP into the title game.
"The kids have driven the program, they've driven the playoff run and they've got us down there," said coach Bill Krefft, who played on the Knights' 2002 title team and assisted for the 2008 champs. "It's fun to be along for the ride."