EAST ST. LOUIS If Wheaton Warrenville South football coach Ron Muhitch would end his career today, he would have fulfilled a life-long dream after his team defeated East St. Louis 10-7 in a Class 7A quarterfinal game at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium.
"I told the guys that this is one of my 'bucket lists,'" Muhitch said. "I wanted to get down here and play in East St. Louis. I've heard so much about it. I've never been down here. (East St. Louis) Coach (Darren) Sunkett has a great program."
Not only did Muhitch complete his coaching resume stop, the Tigers defense frustrated the quick and dangerous Flyers offense the entire game, despite without starting quarterback Thaddeus Armstrong (concussion) and held East St. Louis to one touchdown despite the Flyers being inside the 10-yard line three times.
The two-time defending state champion Tigers (9-3) advance to play St. Rita (10-2) in the semifinals next weekend.
The victory was the 13th straight playoff win for WW South.
"Our defense is outstanding," Muhitch said. "Our defense takes away whatever the team's offense is and it neutralizes a lot of things because of great hustle and responsibility."
The Flyers (9-3) never could get the offense going thanks to nine penalties, seven in the first half that stalled or killed drives.
"We had our opportunities to get into the end zone twice in the first half and we had a blown field goal," Sunkett said. "When you're playing a great football team like Wheaton, you have to capitalize on the numbers of opportunities you get."
The Tigers scored on their first possession when Baylor Holmes hit a 37-yard field goal at 5 minutes, 58 seconds of the first quarter to complete a 6-play drive. Jeremy Nicholson had the distance from 13 yards, but his kick sailed wide to the left and the Flyers failed to tie the game with 11:48 left in the half.
Nicholson fumbled later in the half and Adam Dansdill recovered at the 27 with 1:48 left in the half and it looked like the Tigers were going to score. Quarterback Ryan Graham's pass was deflected to Brady Banda, and he ran into the end zone for an apparent score, but officials threw a flag and blew the play dead. Two plays later, Wilbert Jones killed the drive when he intercepted the football at the 5-yard line.
"That ball should have been a touchdown," Muhitch said. "Do you have any idea of how close that came to haunting me? That was a great play. Holy cow. There's no reason to quick whistle that."
Running back Dan Vitale picked up the pace for the Tigers in the second half, and he helped his club eat the clock and keep the Flyers defense on the field for a large portion of the second half.
He finished with 99 yards on 29 carries. He scored on a 5-yard run to make it 10-0 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"I followed my offensive line and they took care of it," Vitale said. "I stalled the first half, but I was patient in the second half and that took care of it."
The Flyers made it interesting when quarterback Lamontiez Ivy scored on a pretty 10-yard draw play with 8:40 left. Ivy had a rough day completing just 7 of 13 passes for 56 yards.
"I trust our defense completely," Vitale said. "They are playing the best defense in the state right now."