Scouting the Class 5A football championship game
By Dave Oberhelman
Class 5A championship
No. 4 Montini (12-1) vs. No. 14 Joliet Catholic (9-4)
Game time: 10 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Scouting Montini: In their 26th straight postseason and 31st overall, the Broncos make their ninth title-game appearance; they've won six titles, four straight from 2009-12 plus the 2004 4A title and the 2015 6A title. This year Montini was bumped to Class 5A from 6A for the first time since 2014. Shifting divisions within the Chicago Catholic League to the rough CCL Blue from the Green, the Broncos started the season 8-0 before falling to Class 8A finalist Brother Rice in Week 9.
Scouting Joliet Catholic: The Hilltoppers' 13 football titles are the best in Illinois, their 17 trophies tied with Mt. Carmel. Shuffling to a 4-4 record then trailing Notre Dame at halftime in Week 9 it didn't seem Joliet Catholic would reach its 40th playoff appearance. Tied for third in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, the Hilltoppers have since outscored their playoff foes 195-54. Joliet Catholic's last state title came in 2007 in Class 6A under retired coach Dan Sharp.
Road to the championship: Montini beat No. 13 Woodstock North 42-7, No. 5 Sycamore 21-17, No. 16 Evergreen Park 54-7 and No. 2 Sterling 42-20. Joliet Catholic beat No. 3 Metamora 49-20, No. 6 Marion 49-7, No. 2 Highland 55-21 and No. 1 Hillcrest 42-6.
Coaches: Montini coach Mike Bukovsky, a 1983 graduate of the school, is 18-5 in his second year as head coach. He's been a varsity coach 29 years, the defensive coordinator throughout, including 27 seasons under retired Broncos coach Chris Andriano. Bukovsky also has won two state softball titles as well as eight wrestling titles in 16 seasons from 1995-2010. Joliet Catholic coach Jake Jaworski, a 2002 graduate of the school, is also the Hilltoppers' offensive coordinator. A starting safety on Joliet Catholic title teams in 2000 and 2001, he's gone 12-10 in two seasons since succeeding Sharp in 2017.
Probable starting offenses:
Montini Joliet Catholic
Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Deontay Bell 5-11 185 Jr. QB Jordan Alvarez 5-9 180 Sr.
Nick Fedanzo 6-0 205 Sr. RB Keenan Hailey 5-9 185 Sr.
Scott West 6-0 170 Sr. WR/RB Nick Iannantone 6-2 215 Sr.
Zack Olson 5-9 175 Sr. WR/RB Ja'aire Mack 6-1 185 So.
Matt Ross 6-2 182 Sr. WR/TE Max Briscoe 6-2 210 Sr.
Nate Muersch 6-4 205 Jr. WR Izaiah Murphy 6-2 170 Jr.
Jeremiah Banks-Wall 6-5 242 Jr. LT Colin Cox 6-2 295 Sr.
Mike McNicholas 6-5 310 Sr. LG Ty O'Janovac 6-4 270 Sr.
Colin Considine 6-1 295 Sr. C Ryan Laule 6-0 270 Sr.
Colin Baker 6-0 245 So. RG Conor Kovas 6-1 275 Jr.
Dagen Miller 6-2 265 So. RT Dave Monnot 6-2 295 Sr.
Scott West 6-0 170 Sr. K Tony Trabold 5-9 160 Sr.
Probable starting defenses:
Montini Joliet Catholic
Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Frank Conforti 6-2 215 Sr. DE Mac O'Connell 6-1 225 Jr.
Cam Richardson 6-0 235 Jr. DT Ryan Laule 6-0 270 Sr.
Patrick Peters 6-1 255 Jr. DT Andrew Gorski 6-2 240 Sr.
Fred Stokes 6-4 210 Sr. DE Scott Fosen 6-5 215 Sr.
Trevor Swier 6-0 207 Jr. LB Fernando Chavez 6-1 210 Sr.
Jackson Bruscianelli 6-0 215 Sr. LB Max Briscoe 6-2 210 Sr.
DiAndre Harris 5-11 175 So. LB Joey Bueno 5-10 190 Jr.
C.J. Bufkin 5-11 190 Jr. SS Matt Yanke 6-1 185 Sr.
Ray Wojkovich 5-10 172 Sr. FS Kurt Weis 5-10 175 Sr.
Scott West 6-0 170 Sr. CB Jabril Williams 5-9 150 So.
Jermari Harris 6-2 180 Sr. CB Mundo Meyer 6-0 180 Sr.
Nick Mudd 6-1 180 Jr. P Tony Trabold 5-9 160 Sr.
When Montini has the ball: The Broncos average 35 points and 342 yards using a spread offense that includes zone-read, run-pass and power-run facets. Ball distribution is the goal. Two quarterbacks are employed often within the same series depending on situation: Bell, who has run for 783 yards, 9 touchdowns and thrown for 656 yards, 9 touchdowns; and big-armed sophomore Robert Brazziel, who has completed 52 percent of his passes for 864 yards, 14 touchdowns, plus the only 2 interceptions Montini has thrown all season. Muersch, with 29 catches for 471 yards and 10 touchdowns, is the top receiver though West is a big-play man and Ross and Olson contribute. The Illinois-bound Fedanzo has run for 1,235 yards, 16 touchdowns. Though a 10.9 sprinter, he gets stronger as the game goes on. Bufkin and Olson complement Fedanzo and Bell, Olson a jet sweep specialist.
Joliet Catholic allows 23 points and 316 yards on average but has buckled down after allowing an average of 31 points through nine games. The Hilltoppers run a 4-3 base with cover-2 pass defense, plus a zone. Three-year starter Weiss has made 102 tackles and 7 of the Hilltoppers' 19 interceptions. Three-year starter Chavez has made 89 tackles and a third three-year man, Fosen, has 7 sacks in the playoffs. Jaworski called Meyer the "Swiss Army knife of our defense," a rover who often covers a foe's top receiver and who intercepted Hillcrest twice. The key against Montini, Jaworski said, is to adjust on the fly and create turnovers.
When Joliet Catholic has the ball: Averaging 37 points and 415 yards a game, the Hilltoppers' double- and single-wing offense delivers a steady diet of crisp power, counter, trap and blast run plays. Highly efficient, Bukovsky said Joliet Catholic can go from huddle to line to snap in seven seconds. Three-year starting linemen Monnot, Laule, O'Janovac and Cox are the backbone of a unit that has run for 4,606 yards headed by Hailey with 2,541 yards, 32 touchdowns. Iannantone adds 1,297 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns. If Joliet Catholic throws the ball 10 times it's in trouble, but on play-action and screen passes Alvarez can hurt defenses sucking up against the run, completing 34 passes for 791 yards, 13 touchdowns, a 22-yard average. Averaging 37 yards a catch, Murphy has scored 4 touchdowns on 8 receptions; Mack has 4 scores on 7 catches out of the backfield.
Montini's 4-3 defense allows 10 points and 192 yards on average. Since last season physicality was emphasized and the Broncos have delivered. Linemen Peters, Conforti and Stokes have combined for 57 tackles for loss and 29 sacks. Bruscianelli, who Bukovsky calls the unit's "heart and soul," is a three-year starter who's made 133 tackles with two-year starter Swier adding 118. Third linebacker DiAndre Harris is just plain nasty. Jermari Harris' 8 interceptions and West's 6 may not come into play much here, but they are strong tacklers. The defense looks to secure the edge, fill gaps and confront Joliet Catholic's pulling guards. Maybe the most important factor is the mental discipline required for four quarters of assignment football.
Intangibles: Joliet Catholic aims to halve Montini's 2-0 title-game record against the Hilltoppers. Both were classics: Montini's 2-point conversion won the 2009 contest 29-28; the 70-45 track meet in 2011 featured 1,644 yards of offense. Trabold gives Joliet Catholic an edge in the kicking game, 3-for-3 in field goals and 42 yards a punt. However, Olson has returned 2 kickoffs for touchdown and last week returned a punt 77 yards to score; Fedanzo's 99-yard kickoff return keyed a confidence-building rally from a 21-0 deficit at Loyola.
-- Dave Oberhelman