CHAMPAIGN -- Trying to make one more play, on a day he made plenty, Kyle Hull just couldn't.
Vernon Hills' quarterback was leveled from behind while scrambling. He fumbled, lost the ball and lay on the Memorial Stadium turf wounded in more ways than one. Peoria was just more than a minute away from completing a 62-48 win Saturday in the Class 5A state championship game.
"It was either a helmet or a cleat. It got me in the shin," Hull said. "Just a stinger."
He eventually walked to the sideline, head down.
"I wasn't feeling very good about the whole situation," he explained.
When Hull eventually reviews this season, it won't sting. The senior won't remember the stinger. His head will be up. What he and his teammates will cherish is that they fashioned the best season in the 17-year history of Vernon Hills football.
The Cougars (10-4), who had never advanced to the state semifinals, fell to a Peoria juggernaut that piled up a state-record 805 points this season. Before Saturday, the most points Vernon Hills had allowed in a game was 25. Peoria (13-1), which won its first state title, hit 28 points with 9:12 left in the second quarter. The combined 110 points scored were five short of the 5A record.
Lions junior running back Geno Hess rushed for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries, while junior quarterback Coran Taylor rushed 18 times for 134 yards and 3 scores and completed 14 of 17 passes for 215 yards and 2 TDs, both to senior Aaron Jowers.
"Their offense is just so high-powered," Vernon Hills linebacker Chick Smith said. "It's just something we've never seen before. We come from a very good conference (Central Suburban League). Very good offenses. Very good defenses. But these guys were just one step above that."
"Hats off to Peoria," said Vernon Hills' Drew Winegardner, who set a 5A record with 19 receptions. "The most fun I've ever had playing a game."
Earlier in the week, Cougars coach Bill Bellecomo said Peoria, on film, reminded him of the Carolina Panthers. Maybe he wasn't joking.
"They're dynamic athletes and they're tough to stop," Bellecomo said. "They're big kids, but we gave it all we had. When you see them up close, they're really big."
Hull played huge. He completed a 5A-record 45 passes (59 attempts) for 426 yards and 6 touchdowns, and he also had 21 carries for 42 yards and a TD.
"He's very shifty," Peoria senior defensive lineman Kendrick Green said. "He was really hard to get a hold of. He made some plays with his feet, scrambled out and completed some good passes."
Winegardner shattered the record for receptions. His 19 catches (128 yards, 3 TDs) were 7 more than the previous mark.
"They were playing off me the whole game," Winegardner said. "Kyle was able to find me for a couple of short routes. We were trying to get some yards, get out of bounds, get the offense going."
Vernon Hills ran 86 plays (63 passes) and included were reverses and double reverses. Winegardner, a running back, threw 3 passes, including one to former running back Hull for 12 yards. Six Cougars caught passes.
"I was joking with Coach (Corey) Atwell," said Bellecomo, who didn't think his Cougars could run against Peoria's front four. "I said, 'Do we have anything left (in the playbook)?' He said, 'I think I pulled it all out.' "
In a game that featured 16 touchdowns, one stood out for Bellecomo. Vernon Hills had just gone up 28-21 on Chris Mariella' leaping 25-yard catch from Hull with 9:23 left in the second quarter. But on the ensuing kickoff, Peoria's Miguel Fenderson picked up a bouncing ball at the 17 and sped to the end zone.
Vernon Hills regained the lead when Hull zigged into the end zone from 3 yards out to cap a nine-play drive. But Peoria got TD runs of 1 yard from Hess and 13 yards from Smith to go into halftime up 40-35. Hess' score capped a 14-play drive that included a fourth-and-8 conversion, when Taylor stretched for a 9-yard gain to the Vernon Hills 11.
"I thought we had some momentum going, and that (83-yard) returned kickoff hurt a little bit," Bellecomo said.
Peoria punted only once and ran 80 plays.
"We wanted to get the play count as high as we could get it," Lions coach Tim Thornton said. "We noticed going into halftime they were about 20 plays away from their average, end of game. Anytime we have that stat in the locker room at halftime, our kids get a little excited."
While Peoria didn't give the ball away, the Lions forced 3 turnovers (all in the second half), including Hull's late fumble. Bolo Carruthers picked off Hull in the third quarter after Green swatted the ball at the line of scrimmage, and Jazzston Logan got an interception in the fourth.
Mariella (99 yards) and Nick Marras (55 yards) each had 8 receptions for Vernon Hills. Max Lyle caught six passes for 133 yards, including a 50-yarder to open the Cougars' scoring, and sophomore Derek Jarrell had 5 catches for 48 yards. Jarrell had an 8-yard TD grab early in the third to put Vernon Hills up 42-40, but Peoria took the lead for good on Jaleen James' 17-yard run and his PAT run.
Jowers' 14-yard TD catch had the Lions ahead 54-42 after three.
"We did not want to get into a track meet with these guys," Bellecomo said. "We just couldn't stop them."
No Peoria opponent did this season.