Prairie Ridge stops Hoffman Estates, locks up return to 6A title game
Hoffman Estates tried to give Samson Evans and Prairie Ridge the proverbial haircut Saturday.
Instead it was Evans who maintained his strength and lifted the Wolves to a 42-21 victory in the Class 6A football state semifinals in Hoffman Estates.
Defending 6A state champion Prairie Ridge (13-0) returns to the finals next Saturday, putting a 27-game winning streak on the line against Nazareth Academy at Northern Illinois University.
Nazareth earned its state final berth by beating Providence 24-7.
Hoffman Estates (10-3) simply could not slow down Evans. The player of the year candidate directed the Prairie Ridge option attack to perfection, rushing for 310 yards on 34 carries while scoring 4 touchdowns. He also had a touchdown pass and returned a punt 70 yards to set up a touchdown.
"They just wore us out with too many plays," Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse said. "It was just too much Evans. He will probably be player of the year, and you can see why."
Heyse said he was disappointed with the loss, but proud of the way this Hoffman Estates team has changed the fortunes of the program. This was the first time in school history that a Hawks team had advanced to the semifinals, and the 10 wins tied for the most in school history.
"It was a great season," Heyse said. "It was what we thought we could accomplish. We thought we could get to the title game."
Hofmann Estates had its chances early.
Prairie Ridge took the opening kickoff and drove 13 plays down to the Hoffman 7. The Hawks then tackled Zach Gulbransen for a 7-yard loss, forcing a 31-yard field goal. That kick, into a stiff wind, hit the crossbar.
Hoffman came right back on the first play from scrimmage. The Hawks had an open receiver behind the Prairie Ridge defenders, but the wind forced the pass to sail way over the receiver's head.
"We had some chances, especially early," Heyse said. "We just made some mistakes at the wrong time."
Prairie Ridge took a 6-0 lead on Evans' first touchdown run. Clevontae Jackson blocked the conversion kick for Hoffman.
Hoffman Estates had another opportunity to score early in the second quarter. But again the winds blew the pass away from another open receiver in the end zone.
The Hawks finally got their passing game into full gear when quarterback Austin Coalson hooked up with a 62-yard catch and run by Jayvon Blissett for a touchdown. Konnor Lancor's kick gave the Hawks a 7-6 lead.
Evans, who'd begun to scar the Hoffman Estates defense with his feet, showed that his arm can work pretty well, too. Evans connected with Copper Tomlin on a 26-yard TD pass to make it. 13-7 with 3:33 left in the first half.
The Hawks, though, were unfazed. Coalson connected twice with Jaylan Alexander on long passes, the last a wide receiver screen that Alexander took to the house -- and suddenly Hoffman led 14-13 with 1:38 left in the first half.
But before the overflow crowd at Hoffman could settle down, Evans showed why he is so dangerous. On the first play after the kickoff, Evans raced 61 yards for a touchdown to give the Wolves the lead for good.
Hoffman Estates moved the ball well after the opening kickoff of the second half. But a Prairie Ridge defender jumped a screen pass for an interception.
"That was huge," Heyse said. "We were driving and we made a mistake, and the tides turned."
And they turned quickly against the Hawks.
Gulbransen scored on 4-yard run to make it 27-14. Evans extended the lead on a 13-yard TD run that was set up by his 70-yard punt return.
The Hawks closed to 35-21 with 2:00 left in the third quarter when Coalson (19-of-35, 259 yard) tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Alexander (6 catches, 102 yards).
Evans ended the Hawks' thoughts of a comeback when he busted off a 38-yard touchdown run.
Despite the loss, Hoffman's players were upbeat and remained proud of what they accomplished this year.
"We came here in our freshman year and we knew we wanted to turn this program around," said Alexander, who will continue his career next season at Purdue. "I am happy we did that. We had fun and we enjoyed the moment. And now it is time for the juniors and sophomores come out next year, do the same thing we did this year."
Blissett said the goal was to turn a Hoffman program around that had won just 9 total games over the previous 10 years before Blissett and his fellow seniors came to Hoffman.
"It was a great ride," Blissett said. "We came in freshman year with a goal of changing the program. I used to be laughed at when I told people I was going to play football at Hoffman. No one is laughing at us now, and we are passing that torch on to the younger guys."
Coalson says he and his teammates helped change the culture at Hoffman.
"It has been unbelievable and indescribable," Coalson said. "I have been telling everybody, 'Look at where we are, look at what we did. Look around. Look at our stands. Look at what we have created and look what we turned this community into.' It is something to be proud of."
Heyse also wanted to credit the teams the last few years for changing the program.
"It wasn't just this senior class," Heyse said. "It started a few years back. I feel bad for them because they went 4-5 and didn't make the playoffs. But they showed our seniors today that if they do this, they will succeed."