IC Catholic does it again
CHAMPAIGN -- Before the football season started IC Catholic Prep coach Bill Krefft laid out his course.
"We've said each year, if we're not better than in the past we're failing," he said back in August.
Beating Bishop McNamara 31-21 on Friday in the Class 4A championship, the Knights are anything but failing.
"It's really comforting and satisfying to see everything come to a culmination especially with our senior year and the record that everyone's had and how close we've come," said center Ryan Kenneally, part of a senior group that's gone 41-1 the last three years. "It's really just amazing, I can't even describe it."
Finishing 14-0 for the second time in three seasons, ICCP won its third straight state title, it's fifth overall and its first in Class 4A after being raised from 3A this season by the IHSA success adjustment.
"To be honest with you," Krefft said, "the 4A ride and the 3A ride, we were just along for the ride because these kids have been driving it for a long time. It has been a pleasure to just be a part of it. I just feel privileged and honored to be a part of their team."
Despite twisting his right ankle late in the first quarter Kyle Franklin ran the ball 22 times for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns -- an 11-yarder to open the scoring at 7:47 of the first quarter, and a 60-yarder with six minutes to play. That basically slammed the door on Bishop McNamara (12-2).
"Early in the game I was at 100 percent," Franklin said. "After that hit with my ankle it most likely lowered me down to, like, 50 percent. I had to push through it because the coaches on the sideline would not allow me to just stay there with a hurt ankle."
Franklin was supported on the ground by moonlighting linebacker Kevin Cooke's 39 yards rushing and by quarterback Khalil Saunders, who ran for 117 yards and a touchdown. Franklin, a sophomore, ended the season with 2,378 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns.
"Kyle got a little banged up and he was fighting through it and I just did what the team needed me to do," said Cooke, the Knights' middle linebacker.
ICCP and McNamara, who played Week 4 with IC Catholic winning 21-20 on a touchdown pass with 16 seconds left, looked like they might engage in another dogfight. Bishop McNamara answered ICCPs 2 first-half touchdowns to tie the score 14-14 at halftime. Fightin' Irish tailback Tyshon King seemed to give his team momentum going into the locker room on a 1-yard TD run at 2:03 of the second quarter.
In the third quarter that was not to be.
"Our tailback (King) was out with a concussion," said Irish coach Rich Zinanni. "He was in concussion protocol 5, he couldn't come back in. The doctor finally cleared him late in the third quarter, so that hurt."
King, who finished with 71 yards on 25 carries, ran just once in the third quarter. That opened the door for the Knights.
Khalil Saunders and Cooke paced a 12-play drive that broke the tie on Cooke's 1-yard dive off left tackle Michael Johnson. Khali Saunders, Khalil's twin, intercepted a pass that led to a 20-yard Tom Sloan field goal that gave the Knights a 24-14 led after three quarters. Heavy pressure by Knights lineman Ricky Mysliwiec on Irish quarterback Tyler Hiller contributed.
"I saw Ricky, he got to the quarterback, made a big hit on him which caused the ball to be a bit wobbly and for me to get to it," said Khali Saunders, an outside linebacker with a team-high 8 tackles.
An interception by McNamara's Manny Harris led to Dorian Autman's 1-yard touchdown blast, but ICCP quickly answered. Franklin bounced off a pile and sprinted 60 yards for the score.
With those 2,378 yards, Franklin topped the 2,297 rushing yards superstar Jordan Rowell gained in 2016.
"I feel like I haven't done enough yet," Franklin said. "I feel like I should keep going, and if I have broken those records then I'm going to keep making some more."
And people will be watching.
"We have an amazing coaching staff, we have an amazing team and I just loved to fight every week with my brothers," Khalil Saunders said. "It's going to be sad to be over, but I know that IC has a lot more football to play and I can't wait to watch them."