Willowbrook's already made history. Now, the Warriors aim to make even more

  • Willowbrook will play in the semifinals for the first time since 1975.

      Willowbrook will play in the semifinals for the first time since 1975. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/20/2019 6:18 AM

Last team standing.

With three losses and one gigantic win last weekend, DuPage County's football season has narrowed to Willowbrook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Warriors finally broke through that quarterfinal barrier, and this week's Eyes on Five tips its cap to the area's last hope at a state championship.

1. A giant leap:

The last time Willowbrook advanced to the state semifinals, we were on Super Bowl IX.

Yes, 1975 was a long time ago.

It seemed so easy at the time. The Warriors were a semifinalist in 1974, the first year of the IHSA playoffs, and returned the following season. In the next 40-plus years they made plenty of playoff appearances but couldn't get past the quarterfinals.

The Warriors saw their hopes dashed the last three years in that pivotal playoff round by powerhouses East St. Louis, Prairie Ridge and Batavia.

On Saturday, however, quarterback Sam Tumilty and the boys made history with a 28-10 victory over Lake Zurich. Now the No. 5 Warriors (11-1) will play host to No. 1 Mt. Carmel (12-0) in the Class 7A semifinals in Villa Park.

A win away from the state title game in DeKalb.

What a moment for the program.

2. Generational talent:

Proudly, Willowbrook's football program found success by getting the most out of good -- not elite -- high school players.

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Make no mistake, all the Power Five talent will be on the other sideline this Saturday. Mt. Carmel boasts a slew of scholarship offers, not to mention the legacy of 12 state titles in its past.

Willowbrook, meanwhile, hasn't fielded Division I talent since Colin Madison in 2006. Matt Roth headed off to Iowa in 2001.

Other than a few blips of supreme individual talent, the Warriors leaned on guys like Dom Battaglia, Jack Jessen and a long list of others who'd go through a wall for their teammates.

This year it's Sam Tumilty, Deandre Holliday, Ryan Ranieri and so many more on a team short on scholarship offers but long on heart.

It's the Willowbrook blueprint.

3. Snow or shine:

Congrats to Richmond-Burton, which ended IC Catholic Prep's stretch of three straight state titles with a 24-14 victory over the Knights.

But I can't help but wonder what might have been on an artificial surface.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Last week's snow mostly melted by the time Saturday's games kicked off, but any grass field -- like Richmond-Burton's -- was doomed to destruction because of the lingering slop.

IC Catholic Prep prepared as best it could by getting practice time on a grass field at the Plunkett Park facility in Elmhurst, but there was simply no way for them to play their usual brand of football on Saturday.

Without the ability to cut or take advantage of the edges, IC Catholic Prep's athleticism was stifled. Running back Kyle Franklin couldn't be Kyle Franklin.

Maybe Richmond-Burton still wins on an artificial surface. But we'll never know.

4. Public vs. private:

The Class 7A and 8A semifinals should be interesting.

Rolling Meadows plays Nazareth and Willowbrook takes on Mt. Carmel in 7A while Brother Rice plays Warren and Lincoln-Way East faces Marist in 8A.

That means in both classes we could have an all-private school title game, an all-public school matchup or any combination in between. No matter what happens, the annual howling is coming soon in the public vs. private debate.

Which reminds me ... next week the IHSA Legislative Commission meets to decide which bylaw amendment proposals will be placed on the December ballot for member schools.

Among the proposals is a plan to separate the public and private schools into different state series, something that pops up every couple years.

And, as we've talked about for weeks, there's a football proposal to expand the playoff field and a proposal to keep things the way they are. Both are a direct counter to the district plan voted in last year.

Can't wait to see that ballot.

5. Stat time:

Only one of last year's eight state champions remains alive heading into the semifinals.

That team is ... unbeaten Nazareth, the No. 2 seed in Class 7A.

Twitter: @kevin_schmit

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