This time state championship eludes Montini
CHAMPAIGN -- Joliet Catholic finally beat the odds against Montini.
Nick Iannantone ran 40 times for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns, and on Montini's final charge the Hilltoppers defense bent but didn't break to win the Class 5A championship football game 35-27 Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Joliet Catholic beat the Broncos for a title for the first time in three chances, its first win in six postseason meetings overall since first butting heads in 2009. Once battling for a playoff berth at 4-4, Joliet Catholic joined 2008 Immaculate Conception and 2009 Montini as 10-4 state champions.
"We didn't really talk about it," said Joliet Catholic coach Jake Jaworski, a starting safety on Hilltoppers 2000 and 2001 championship teams. "We just kind of felt it was our time, we just focused on what we were doing and we played our game."
As often happens when Montini (12-2) and Joliet Catholic meet, it came down to the bitter end.
From his own 20-yard line with 1:33 left to play, Montini quarterback Robert Brazziel drove the Broncos 74 yards for first-and-goal at the Hilltoppers 6-yard line. A run play and two passes got no closer. On fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line with four seconds left, JCA's Joey Bueno and Max Briscoe converged on Brazziel, whose last-ditch flip toward the end zone got intercepted by Hilltoppers lineman Andrew Gorski, ending the game.
"We'll remember this group and we have nothing to hang our heads about today," said Broncos coach Mike Bukovsky, in his first title game as coach after a 6-2 record as an assistant. "We played a solid game, they just made a few more plays than we did. But I can tell you, there's no quit in our guys, we fought till the end and sometimes you have to make another play or two and we couldn't get that done today."
The game had as many twists and turns as a British spy novel.
Montini led 21-7 by 6:50 of the second quarter on Nick Fedanzo touchdowns runs of 34 and 12 yards and a 73-yard run by Broncos quarterback Deontay Bell.
Joliet Catholic's 2,500-yard rusher, Keenan Hailey, left with an injured ankle, sidelined on crutches with ice wrapped around his left ankle. Iannantone took six of the next seven handoffs and made it 21-14 at halftime on a 3-yard run.
Before halftime Bell also suffered a left ankle injury, the running specialist in Montini's two-quarterback scheme finishing his day with 104 yards rushing.
"When I got tackled the guy rolled over it but the rest of my body didn't roll with it so my leg just turned," said Bell, a junior.
At 8:04 of the third quarter Joliet Catholic tied the score 21-21 on Iannantone's 9-yard run and Tony Trabold's kick, but Montini executed its own 10-play drive to go up 27-21 four minutes later. The Broncos faked Zack Olson on a jet sweep right and Fedanzo countered left for a 20-yard touchdown run.
At that point it seemed questionable for Joliet Catholic to go for it on fourth-and-3 from its own 23-yard line, particularly when Montini's Jermari Harris and Trevor Swier stopped it quick. But Hilltoppers safety Matt Yanke's interception got the ball right back. Hailey's surprising return helped the Hilltoppers march 84 yards for a 28-27 lead with 7:48 to play on Iannantone's 18-yard run.
"I knew it was a close game, I knew we needed momentum, I knew our team needed to be put back together. I felt I needed to be there," Hailey said.
Hailey scored the capper with 1:33 left, a 30-yard touchdown run to finish with 96 yards rushing.
Jackson Bruscianelli led Montini with 15 tackles and DiAndre Harris added 12. Illinois commit Fedanzo ran for 186 yards on his future football field.
"It was amazing coming here to play a game, especially here in the state finals," Fedanzo said. "We didn't get the outcome we wanted, but I played my heart out and I know my teammates did, too. We did all we could."