St. Francis takes blowout victory
Recently injured St. Francis running back Henry Plamondon wanted to at least give his injured ankle a try Friday.
It's his senior year, and the Spartans are in the state football playoffs for the first time since their 2014 quarterfinal run.
"The recovery's actually phenomenal. Since we were up early, they wanted to rest it so I'll be ready for the next playoff game," Plamondon said. "I think second round is going to be very important for us."
The Spartans scored touchdowns on their first four possessions -- and Plamondon helped -- in a 49-6 victory over Amundsen for their Class 5A playoff opener in Wheaton.
St. Francis (8-2), a No. 6 seed, awaits the winner of Saturday's matchup between No. 3 Rockford Boylan (8-1) and No. 14 Glenbard South (5-4).
It's a sweet turnaround for the Spartans after being 1-8 the past two seasons. Many seniors, like Plamondon, have been on varsity since sophomore year.
"It's unbelievable. This year we just came together. We made that connection together," Plamondon said.
"Going into the season, we immediately knew. It felt different, the chemistry. We were making things happen over the summer. We're exactly where we knew we were going to be."
The Spartans' 325 points scored is approaching nearly twice the 172 from the past two seasons combined. They've scored at least 20 points every game and as many as 49 twice.
On Friday's first series, Plamondon carried three times and scored on a 3-yard run and four times the next series before coming out with 30 rushing yards.
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse threw for 97 yards and 2 TDs in the first half to senior Marcus Ingold and junior Jake Tangorra. In the second half junior quarterback Mike Baffa threw for another to senior Ryan Siurek and ran for one. Senior Zach Radel and junior Nick Imbrogno added TD runs.
The defense also shone by limiting the No. 11 Vikings (5-5) to minus-3 total yards and 2 first downs. This year's squad has improved more than 100 points in points allowed from 2017 (186 from 295).
"These kids bought into what we talked about in the summertime and they've' been working their butts off," second-year St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said.
"It's been a long time since this school and this team has made the playoffs. These seniors have never made the playoffs. To be able give this gift to them this year and get a win for them is something special."
The Spartans moved ahead 14-0 on the 12-yard TD pass from Rittenhouse to Ingold and scored twice in the second quarter on Radel's 1-yard run and Rittenhouse's 11-yard TD pass to Tangorra.
In the second half Baffa extended the lead to 35-0 on the opening drive with his 12-yard run. After a high punt snap gave the Spartans the ball back at the 1, Imbrogno scored on the next play to begin the running clock. Siurek caught Baffa's deflected 13-yard TD pass for a 49-0 lead with 9:31 left.
The Spartans are thriving behind a veteran offensive line with four returning starters -- center Jesse Gonzalez, tackles Dan Skold and Connor Schmidt and guard Ryan Holleman -- with new guard Joey Mayor.
In his third varsity season Radel is again playing after missing 2017 with a knee injury that required surgery. Junior linebacker Ben Radel, Zach's brother, had two tackles for loss in Friday's opening series.
"I missed it so much last year and with the way this season's going, I'm so happy to be a part of it. It's awesome," Zach Radel said.
"The last two years we struggled, but with all of the hard work we've put in, especially this year, this game means everything, just to have a playoff win under our belts. Now we have a good group of seniors and with the coaches we've brought in, it's a whole different culture."
This was the Vikings' first IHSA playoff appearance and many key players are non-seniors.
Fourth-year coach Nick Olson especially was pleased with his team's persistence as evidenced by wildcat-formation quarterback Isaiah Morris' 8-yard TD run with 2:09 left one play after Hashon Hemphill returned a popped-up fumble 72 yards from the Vikings' 20.
"My guys fought the entire game. As a coach, how can you be disappointed in that?" Olson said.
"If this is the level of competition we want to play up to, we need to take football a little more serious in the film room, off-season in the weight room as well as just being students of the game. I think (tonight) they got the wakeup call they needed so I love the experience."