Glenbard East season ends on positive note
Facing a running clock and the closing moments of their final high school football game, Armoni Gilford and fellow Glenbard East seniors still had unfinished business with the end zone.
"We just kept talking that we've got to put it in there, work hard, just everyone do what they had to do," Gilford said.
Gilford's 6-yard touchdown run on an end around with 6:50 remaining may have made little difference in the Rams' 49-7 loss to Marist in the Class 8A first-round playoff matchup in Lombard, but that displayed the spirit of a senior class that has helped the Rams' program reach new heights.
No. 23-seeded Marist (6-4) was the state's best 5-4 playoff team after facing teams with the best combined winning record, 56-25. They next play No. 7 Huntley or No. 26 Taft.
No. 10 Glenbard East (8-2) reached the playoffs for the second straight year after previously only qualifying once before in 1999. The Rams also earned a three-way share of the Upstate Eight Conference title after last year's undefeated run earned their first conference crown since 1965.
"It means a lot because from when I got on varsity we really changed around our culture and making this a winning program," Glenbard East senior standout receiver Deon Cook said.
"Last year we were really playing under the seniors. This year we were really doubted because all of our seniors left, but we really came and changed people's minds."
The Rams' 18 seniors had said goodbye to a 2018 senior class with 19 starters, seven three-year starters and 11 all-UEC players.
Maybe playoffs can become a regular occurrence at Glenbard East.
"If you're successful one year, it's not a turnaround. When you start to do it year in and year out, it starts to become an expectation. And I think our guys here understand that," Glenbard East coach John Walters said.
"We're going to be that team that's going to bring back 16 starters next year. Marist is a good football team. They're well-coached. They're experienced in these kind of situations where we're just not as a program yet."
The RedHawks are in the playoffs for the fifth straight year and 11th time in the past 12 seasons. This was their sixth straight first-round victory.
Starting with a 53-yard TD run by running back Amari Watkins on their first offensive play, the RedHawks unleashed a fierce running attack that helped them score six touchdowns on six possessions for a 42-0 halftime lead and already 450 yards of total offense.
Watkins rushed for 183 yards and 2 TDs. A.J. Markett rushed for 138 yards and one TD and caught a 14-yard TD pass from quarterback Hayden Mikesell, whose other completion was a 12-yard TD strike to Carnell Tate. He added a 46-yard TD run of his own.
"Our guys have kind of established as an identity as a power running team. Those guys open up great holes and they're playing really, really well," Marist coach Ron Dawczak said.
"The schedule was difficult. That record is 5-4, but we were playing some of the best teams in the state and competed really well and could have pulled out some of those wins. Once you get in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0."
Two plays before his TD, Gilford had the Rams' biggest offensive play with a 33-yard reception on a slant route to the 14.
"(That pass) caught me by surprise, but I made much of it," Whitehead said. "(The TD) meant a lot. I just had to put one in for my team. It was wonderful."
Cook had 3 catches for 32 yards to finish with 971 reception yards and 10 TDs. It's the second-highest Glenbard East single-season yardage total next to Jeremy Johnson's 1,173 in 2018.
"This year coach was like I have to step up and fill (Johnson's) shoes and I really think I did a good job with it," Cook said.
"A lot of seniors turned in their pads last week and we got the opportunity to play with our family one more week (tonight)."
The game also was painful for the Rams in that underclassmen offensive tackles Carlos Carbajal and Marc Koumoundouros suffered injuries and senior Chris Whitehead hurt his ankle with 1:17 left.