Willowbrook tops Lake Zurich to reach semifinals
Senior Deandre Holliday said it feels like just last week that he was nine years old and starting his football career.
"I remember running the green grass fields in the Willowbrook youth football league," Holliday said. "Now, I'm here, 18 years old, playing for the Willowbrook varsity football team."
Not just any Willowbrook team.
The Warriors are in the semifinals of the state football playoffs for the first time since 1975, when they came a game short of the state finals in Class 5A.
Holliday's 66-yard interception return helped turn the tide in favor of the Warriors midway through the fourth quarter at Lake Zurich on Saturday, where No. 5 seed Willowbrook (11-1) posted a 28-10 triumph over No. 20 Lake Zurich (8-4) in a Class 7A quarterfinal.
Willowbrook will host top-seeded Mount Carmel (12-0) next week.
"I know it's big for coach (Nick Hildreth)," Holliday said. "He started 0-9 his first year here (same year that Holliday was in Hildreth's first youth camp) and I know this is a big step for him.
"It means the world to him. And without him, I wouldn't be here. He's great mentor and a great leader and he taught me so much."
Holliday's big pick-6 broke a scoreless second half with 7:36 left in the game and gave his team a 21-10 advantage.
Lake Zurich was driving under third-string quarterback Jake Robertson when Holliday stepped in front of the intended receiver and raced untouched down the Warriors' sideline.
Bears starting QB Jack Moses had to leave the game when he was sacked by Elijah Brockie with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
"I have a dislocated shoulder," said Moses, whose regular backup was unavailable Saturday according to Bears head coach Ron Planz. "I've had it before (shoulder injury) but it's been a while. I'm just proud of my entire team.
"We've been through so much as a group. This has probably been the best four years of my life. I credit my coaching staff. They put us in a great spot and worked so hard all season for us. It just didn't go our way today. I just love every single player on this team. Even though we're done playing, we'll be brothers forever."
Moments later, it was junior Haven Pryor putting an exclamation point on the quarterfinal win as he returned an interception 68 yards to the end zone with 1:37 left for the 28-10 final.
"I think our defense played big today," said Warriors quarterback and defensive back Sam Tumilty, who also had one of his team's season-high 5 interceptions (Holliday had two and Nick Mabutas had one).
"We didn't score as much as we usually do but the defense stepped up. Deandre made big plays and our D-line and linebackers. I think we just battled the whole game and went from there."
Running behind Brian Dilger, Enrique Cruz, Ryan Ranieri, Carlos Hernandez and Brockie, Tumilty rushed and scrambled for 118 yards while throwing for another 129.
LZ's offense, performing behind linemen Luke Mathis, Josh Pollard, Michael Andrews, Bennett Haidu and Spencer Bacon, was led by the rushing of Tommy Vages (62 yards) and Moses (43 yards).
Moses also threw for 157 yards including a beautiful 55-yard TD strike to James Piggott, who made a startling one-handed grab over two defenders.
"That was great catch by Piggott," said first-year coach Planz. "I always tease our receivers coach about the one-hand catch drill he does. Piggott is a special player and special person, just like a lot of our seniors.
"It's going to be weird. I only know Lake Zurich as these seniors so when they're not here anymore, we're going to have to kind of start over a little. But I'm excited. The young levels have bought into the whole program philosophy and we're just going to keep attacking the process like we do."
The Warriors answered the Bears' only TD on their very next possession as Tumilty marched his team 77 yards, capped with a 19-yard pass to Everett Stubblefield for the 14-10 lead.
"Our offense moved the ball pretty well in spots but stalled on too many drives," Hildreth said. "We had too many third and longs, and Lake Zurich is too good of a team to put yourself in those positions."