Warren earns payback, beats Brother Rice to head to state
Nearly out of breath, happily exhausted from the biggest win in Warren football history and a victory-clinching Pick 6 that covered almost the entire length of the field, safety Josh Turner nearly ran out of verbs describing what Brother Rice did to him and his teammates last November.
"They beat us, they bashed us, everything you can name," Turner said. "We just felt horrible. They took our will, they took our pride, but it just made us stronger. It made us play how we play today."
Today, Warren plays a brand of football that few have seen from a team from Lake County. The Blue Devils' season of dominance continued on a cold night in Gurnee on Saturday, as they exacted revenge on visiting Brother Rice with a 28-0 win in a Class 8A state semifinal. It was the sixth shutout for No. 4 seed Warren (13-0), which advanced to Saturday's state championship game at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. The Blue Devils will play No. 3 Lincoln-Way East (13-0) at 7 p.m.
"Going to state," said a smiling Turner, a senior and three-year varsity starter. "No better feeling."
A year after losing to host Brother Rice 20-0 in the state quarterfinals, Warren was a different team when it took the field to play in its first semifinal in school history.
"I just felt we weren't ready as a program yet to win that game (last year)," Blue Devils coach Bryan McNulty said. "But we got a lot of seasoned kids. You're talking seven kids who played their ninth playoff game (in three years) tonight. The moment wasn't too big for them. We said our best kids had to play their best tonight, and they did."
Take Christian Phillips.
Locked in a scoreless tie with No. 24 Brother Rice (8-5) late in the first half, Warren had third-and-6 from its own 27 when Phillips turned a screen pass from Trinate Jacobs into a 46-yard gain. Three plays later, Jacobs rolled to his right and hit Phillips in the end zone from 8 yards out with 34 seconds left before halftime.
With both defenses dominating the line of scrimmage, the Blue Devils maintained their 7-0 lead until late in the third quarter. On third-and-29 from the Warren 26, Derrick McLaughlin broke free for his longest run on his 15th carry. He rumbled 20 yards up the middle, but fumbled. Phillips, hustling alongside, alertly scooped up the ball and raced 54 yards into the end zone with 1:23 left in the third. When Phillips saw the ball on the ground, he thought, "It's mine."
The mentality has served Phillips, who was named all-state during the week, well. His second TD of the game hiked his season total to 21.
"Anytime I see a ball, I think it's mine," Phillips said.
"I saw Derrick in a pile with a bunch of guys, but he wasn't down," Warren center Matt Rich said. "The O-line and I kept pushing him and pushing him and pushing him. Jaiden Lowery (offensive lineman) and I pushed him out. He got room. He got loose. I saw him fumble the ball. It was a little scary, but I knew that 'Canadian Press' (Phillips) was playing hard. He got the ball, and he did what 'Canadian Press' does."
Warren's defense allowed Brother Rice to reach the 25 (Noah Galuska end-zone pass breakup) and 17 (Galuska blocked 34-yard field-goal try) in the first half, but tightened up in the second half. After pinning the Crusaders deep in their own end early in the fourth, the Blue Devils took over the visitors' 27 after a short punt. McLaughlin (20 carries, 91 yards) scored from 18 yards out (his 21st TD) three plays later.
"They got in the red zone a couple of times, but we were able to stop them," Warren all-state defensive lineman Willis Singleton said. "Our defense doesn't want to give up even first downs, nor do we want to give up touchdowns. So when they got close, we buckled down."
Brother Rice threatened to score one final time, but Turner stepped in front of a Jack Lausch pass at the Warren 13 and raced 87 yards the other way. He broke multiple tackles the final 15 yards to reach the end zone with 5:51 to go.
"That's where the pride comes in," Turner said. "I can't let anybody stop me. I just had to squeeze it out."
The effort epitomized his team's through 13 weeks. Malachi McNeal, Juan De La Cruz and Markos Sanchez registered sacks for Waren.
"Everybody in this group has worked for all the success we've had this year," Phillips said. "We started the off-season last November, so we've been chasing this for about a year now. We just wouldn't be denied tonight, and we're ready to be in DeKalb."