Fake punt helps put Cary-Grove in semifinals
Cary-Grove opted to make a play rather than risk giving the football back to one of the top playmakers in Illinois.
Leading by 3 points with under five minutes left in Saturday's 34-24 Class 6A quarterfinal victory over visiting Phillips, the Trojans lined up in punt formation on fourth-and-10 at the Wildcats' 36-yard line.
Cary-Grove quarterback/punter Ben McDonald instead threw a 26-yard pass down the seam to open 6-foot-3 senior Quinn Priester.
Junior fullback Blake Skol burst up the middle on the next play for a 10-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 10 with 4:05 remaining.
"It wasn't so much the call as much as guys making the plays," Seaburg said of the fake punt. "Ben put it right where Quinn could catch it."
Priester, who made 3 catches for 47 yards, said he improvised on the play. McDonald found him anyway.
"It was not the route that was called. It was the route that was open," Preister said. "I'm just glad Ben picked up on it. Otherwise, I would have been in a lot of trouble."
Said McDonald: "I just saw Quinn coming open so I just tried to put it in a spot where he could get it."
The Cary-Grove defense sealed the victory by stopping the ensuing drive by Phillips and Alabama-bound tight end/quarterback Jahleel Billingsley on downs at the Trojans' 17-yard line with 1:21 remaining.
The victory advances No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0) to next week's semifinal at No. 6 Niles Notre Dame (10-2), which defeated No. 2 Antioch 17-10.
"It feels great," Cary-Grove two-way lineman Addison West said. "It's our goal to get to state and it's a closer reach now."
Senior running back Danny Daigle staked the Trojans to three first-half leads, thanks to touchdown runs of 18, 29 and 10 yards. His 10-yard scoring play with 7:31 left in the second quarter put the Trojans ahead 20-16. He finished with 108 yards on 8 carries.
"The line was phenomenal and we were just tough all around, hitting, physical," said Daigle, who played both ways the entire game and grabbed an interception.
Cary-Grove maintained its lead at halftime despite a manic final 30 seconds. The Trojans were knocking on the door at the 6-yard line, but Skol was hit and fumbled the ball to Fabian McCray. He raced up the sideline but was hauled down by a hustling McDonald at the Cary-Grove 29 with 15.3 seconds left.
"It would have been devastating if they had scored right there," McDonald said. "I just did the best I could to get him."
Priester intercepted Billingsley on the next play to negate Cary-Grove's only turnover.
The Trojans extended their lead to 27-16 in the third quarter with a fourth-down pass. Facing fourth-and-2 at the Phillips 6-yard line, McDonald spotted Priester alone in the end zone for a short touchdown. Nathan Splitt added the extra point.
The Wildcats answered with an 11-play, 72-yard drive. The key was a 40-yard pass from quarterback Leonard Smith to 6-3 tight end Jahnez Williams to the 3-yard line. Billingsley ran for the score on the next play and added the 2-point conversion run to draw the defending Class 5A champions within 27-24 with 9:18 remaining.
Though, Billingsley rushed for 2 short touchdowns and scored on a first-quarter, 59-yard catch-and-run, the Trojans mostly held him in check. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior rushed 7 times for 12 yards and caught 3 passes for 70 yards.
"It was pretty muddy on the field," Billingsley said. "It was tough to cut back and make plays."
Cary-Grove answered with its best drive of the day, a 72-yard, 12-play march that ate 5:05 off the clock, keyed by the fake-punt pass and capped by Skol, who rushed 22 times for 108 yards.
Phillips coach Troy McAllister said he was proud of his team after playing toe to toe with a top Class 6A seed in a road quarterfinal.
"We have 623 kids or whatever it is and (Cary-Grove) is 1,700, but there are no excuses," he said. "Our kids fought and we were there. It was the No. 1 seed and we were right there with them."