Willowbrook puts up a fight in quarterfinal loss
With every Willowbrook touchdown you could feel the energy level rising on the Warriors' sideline.
It just wasn't enough to keep up with East St. Louis.
The Flyers piled on the points in Saturday's 60-27 victory over Willowbrook in their Class 7A quarterfinal football matchup in Villa Park.
While second-seeded East St. Louis (12-0) moves on to the semifinals to face Saturday night's winner between Benet and Rolling Meadows, one of the best playoff runs in Willowbrook history comes to an end. The No. 23 Warriors (8-4) reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 1990.
"It was a great time experiencing everything with these guys," said Willowbrook senior Khalif Copeland. "I love each and every one of my teammates and my coaches. We just did what the doubters thought we couldn't do."
The Flyers were rolling after a pair of third-quarter Jeff Thomas touchdowns put them ahead 40-7. The Warriors, however, quickly rallied behind three straight touchdowns.
Quarterback M.J. Ranieri, who completed 21 of 42 passes for 223 yards, started the comeback with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jon Kelso, who had 11 catches for 131 yards. On the Flyers' next possession Copeland snared an interception and returned it 75 yards for another score. Early in the fourth quarter, Ranieri's 11-yard touchdown pass to Copeland narrowed the gap to 40-27.
"Incredibly proud of their effort and everything they've done to get to this point," said Warriors coach Nick Hildreth. "As freshmen these seniors were 2-7. That process to get to this point has been impressive. They've set the bar high for the next groups coming up."
East St. Louis soon seized command again. Quarterback Reyondous Estes ran for a 10-yard touchdown, and Jigg Brown closed the scoring with runs of 44 and 5 yards.
The Flyers rushed for 383 yards as Brown and Jarrell Anderson each went over 100 yards. Thomas, one of the top senior recruits in the state, scored 3 touchdowns.
"We just had to fight because they're a hardworking team and they weren't going to lay down for anybody," Thomas said. "We just had to keep playing ball."
East St. Louis held Willowbrook without a first down in the first quarter and broke out to a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter following a Warriors fumble. While Copeland's Pick 6 was huge for the Warriors, they also turned it over five times to the Flyers.
"We knew (Willowbrook) was going to come out here with a lot of fight, which they did," said Flyers coach Darren Sunkett. "Our guys just had to keep their composure and just sustain it for four quarters."
Follow Kevin on Twitter