Montini's Tim Mikeworth gets his turn with the trophy following their win over Joliet Catholic the IHSA Class 5A state championship in Champaign Saturday.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
Montini quarterback John Rhode fires a second half touchdown pass during the IHSA Class 5A state championship in Champaign Saturday.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
The backbone of Montini's spread offense, the Broncos' offensive line, could have unraveled after an early injury in Saturday's Class 5A championship game.
Instead adjustments prevailed as did Montini in the record-setting 70-45 victory over Joliet Catholic.
Montini's 6-foot-4, 280-pound left guard Tate Briggs had to be helped off the field on the Broncos' ninth offensive play, a 3-yard run by Dimitri Taylor. Briggs, who did not return, was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his left ankle.
Adjusting on the fly, Montini sent in junior Phil Kesik to replace Briggs. The Broncos then used defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. Next, right guard Brady Powers went over to the left and defensive end Fred Beaugard came in at right guard.
Montini (12-2) finally settled on Beaugard at left guard and Powers to the right of center Brian Piper, with tackles David Sarkan and Jim Lowery staying put. That group allowed only 1 sack just the third of the playoffs and paved the way for 853 yards of offense, including quarterback John Rhode's 587 yards passing and Taylor's 196 yards rushing against the Hilltoppers (11-3).
Bottom line, this opportunity was why Rhode transferred to Montini from Marian Catholic.
"Yeah, just to have an opportunity like this with these guys," he said.
As time ran out, Briggs left ankle bandaged and elevated as he sat on the Montini bench looked forlorn as his teammates celebrated on the Memorial Stadium turf.
The junior was not alone for long. A cart was summoned to take Briggs to the stand where for a third straight year Montini accepted the Class 5A first-place trophy. And when it came time for the IHSA's official team photograph, four teammates carried Briggs up the stairs to the stands in the north end zone, to take his rightful place among them.
Baptism by fire:
Imagine making your first varsity start as a sophomore quarterback in the Class 7A title game.
Wheaton Warrenville South's Jordan Davis lived it Saturday.
Because of injuries to senior starter Thaddeus Armstrong and sophomore backup Ryan Graham, Davis was pushed into action far earlier than he ever anticipated.
Even though the Tigers (10-4) fell 21-7 to Rockford Boylan (14-0) in Saturday's 7A final, Davis showed composure well beyond his experience level.
"I never would have expected him to be a sophomore," said Boylan linebacker Ty Zimmerman. "He was a great runner, passer. And he may have been even more effective if it hadn't been raining."
After spending the regular season as quarterback of the Tigers' sophomore team, Davis was promoted to varsity for the playoffs. Because Armstrong suffered a concussion and missed the quarterfinal win over East St. Louis, Davis played the final series of the game after Graham went down with a knee injury.
Armstrong again was hurt in the first half of the semifinal victory over St. Rita, forcing Davis into action for the entire second half.
"First time ever starting a varsity game in the state game is pretty crazy, but I was pretty comfortable," Davis said. "Getting the chance to play in the St. Rita game kind of let all the nerves get out of me. That was great, playing against East St. Louis and St. Rita."
Davis, who's 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, took every snap against Boylan, completing 4 of 15 passes for 58 yards and 2 interceptions while carrying the ball 10 times for 39 yards.
"Very proud of a sophomore having his first start in a state championship game," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "He did a great job."
A defensive coordinator coaching the Montini-Joliet Catholic game might have been tempted to crawl into a corner of the press box. The teams combined for 1,644 yards of offense. In one stretch of the second quarter three Joliet Catholic scores a field goal and Ty Isaac touchdown runs of 56 and 66 yards sandwiched Montini touchdowns by Joey Borsellino and by Jordan Westerkamp from a John Rhode pass for five straight scoring drives.
Montini scored on 10 of 15 possessions, including the last when it simply ran out the clock. The game's scoring "drives" lasted as little as 58, 52, 46, 15, 12 and eight seconds; the lengthiest spanned 3 minutes, 11 seconds.
"We knew that they were a special team with special players," said Montini defensive coordinator Mike Bukovsky. "Those guys, 32 and 33 (Hilltoppers running backs Isaac and Malin Jones) are unbelievable. But we knew that we were going to have to get punched in the face 500 times during the night and we were going to have to be standing at the final bell, and that's what we did."
Even with all the offense there was sporadic defense being played, mainly by Montini. Middle linebacker Franklin Bruscianelli made 20 tackles and forced a fumble. Cornerback Joey Cione also forced a fumble, and those recoveries by safety Tim Mikeworth and linebacker Joe Nitti both led to Broncos touchdowns. Mikeworth, safety Tucker Mucha and linebacker Mitch Lydon each made interceptions.
"The last time we played them (in a state-title game, 2009), the numbers were different on the scoreboard (29-28) but it was the same thing," Bukovsky said. "We had to outlast them into the last round, and our guys are resilient."
Big Ten state of mind:
WW South senior running back Dan Vitale verbally committed to Northwestern before the season began.
He ended his high school career on another Big Ten field at the University of Illinois. Vitale liked his early glimpse of the Big Ten atmosphere.
"I'm very much looking forward to next year," he said.
Vitale was pivotal in keeping the Tigers in the game against Rockford Boylan. He had 23 carries for 121 yards and a 24-yard touchdown run, allowing him to finish with 1,340 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns for the season.
"The past two state championships that we've been down here, I've been injured and on the sidelines so I never even got to dress and run out on the field," he said. "As soon as we turned the corner to run into the stadium, my heart was pounding. It was a great, great feeling."
Muhitch didn't hesitate to talk about what he considered to be the biggest play of the game.
The Tigers trailed 13-7 late in the third quarter when Davis ran 12 yards down to Boylan's 1-yard line. The third-and-goal opportunity was snuffed out, however, when WW South was called for holding.
Pushed back to the 25-yard line, two plays later Davis was intercepted by Zimmerman.
The 7-point swing, according to Muhitch, came down to a broken chin strap on Vitale's helmet that forced him to the sideline for Davis' penalty-negated run.
"Probably the biggest play of the game is Dan Vitale's chin strap getting broke," Muhitch said during Saturday's postgame news conference. "He had to come out of a football game because his chin strap came unbuttoned. And the sub that went in got called for a holding penalty which took a touchdown away from us.
"It's a shame," he said. "We were trying to get it fixed on the field and get him back in, but that's the way the game was going. We were having trouble getting a play consistently to work on offense because of their defense. For us that play was the one I'm going to remember. It's going to bother me."
The final word:
Montini coach Chris Andriano has pointed to the 2012 season as being his last. It will be his 34th, all at Montini.
Given the Broncos' three straight state titles, there's only one way this member of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association wants to go out.
"Four-peat. What are you going to do, right?" he asked.
"It'll be the expectation. I know it'll be the expectation of our coaches and our players. We'll take a couple weeks off here and get back to work. We'll be in the weight room and we'll be doing things that we need to do and we'll try to get back here and do it again."