CHAMPAIGN Excellence comes in all shapes and sizes.
Saturday's football action at Memorial Stadium provided the perfect example.
Montini's 70-45 win over Joliet Catholic for the Class 5A championship offered an offensive performance unlike anything seem before in an IHSA final. Wheaton Warrenville South's 21-14 loss to Rockford Boylan in the 7A title game, meanwhile, showed more than a glimpse of a never-say-die mentality.
Combined, both games demonstrated the power of tradition within DuPage County's premier football programs. Montini (12-2) and WW South (10-4) fulfilled the rare accomplishment of making a third straight title game appearance.
How rare? Other than Driscoll's seven-year title run from 2001-2007, they're the only programs in the county to three-peat in final berths.
WW South, which also made three straight appearances from 1990 to 1992, is the first DuPage County football program to twice play in three straight title games. Montini is the only DuPage team other than Driscoll to win three straight titles.
"It's very fulfilling to know that you have reached this level of excellence," said Montini coach Chris Andriano, whose program won its fourth overall title. "Any time you beat a Joliet Catholic in a state championship game you've done something pretty special.
"Now, two years ago nobody expected it to happen," Andriano said of the Broncos' 29-28 win over the Hilltoppers in 2009. "Now I think we've gained respect around the state. A lot of people were picking us to win. That didn't happen two years ago. That means a lot, that there's a level of respect for our players and our kids that I think is starting to take effect around the state."
While the Broncos, led by record-breaking output from quarterback John Rhode and receiver Jordan Westerkamp, were exceptional Saturday, they and WW South actually looked similar to many of their past teams.
That's a good thing because you saw familiar names like Westerkamp, Borsellino, Dansdill and Rooney on each roster.
Tradition oozes from both programs, and the players are well aware.
"It definitely starts out young," said Northwestern-bound Tigers running back Dan Vitale. "The program just puts together a great fan base, and the coaches are a big part of that. We start out young, everyone goes and watches the games. Everyone wants their shot to get there."
Fourteen of this season's WW South players and 12 Montini players walked on the turf at Memorial Stadium two years ago as freshmen or sophomores. That means 26 players were making their third straight road trip to Champaign.
"The senior class, that's all they know is winning," Andriano said. "It's a group of kids that has put in the time and the work."
No matter how many trips to Champaign they've made, it's a blessing much appreciated by the players.
"My sophomore year I gave Mike Heaton my helmet when his broke, so my helmet got in the game even though I didn't," joked Tigers senior linebacker Dan Roadman. "Last year I didn't get to play because my knee was injured. This year was just an unbelievable experience. I was dreaming of the day I'd finally get to play down here."
Like excellence, appreciation also comes in many shapes and sizes.
Win or lose Saturday, Montini and WW South left us with plenty to appreciate.
"It's tough to replace talented teams year after year," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "We take a lot of pride in what we do."