Class 7A title game in 2009 was destined for greatness
Sixty-five meetings but none more important than this.
No wonder I never wanted it to end.
It's been 10 years since Wheaton Warrenville South's football team beat Glenbard West 31-24 in double overtime in the Class 7A state title game, and that legendary showdown still leaps to the tip of my tongue whenever someone asks about the best game I've covered during a 30-year career writing about prep sports.
A regular-season series had ended three years earlier, which only added to the hype surrounding a matchup between the Tigers -- seeking their sixth state title -- and the Hitters, who claimed their only previous title in 1983. Glenbard West entered 13-0 while WW South suffered its lone loss in Week 2 to eventual Class 8A champion Maine South.
No DuPage County programs and few in the state boast more history than these powerhouses.
Think about it ... you've got Red Grange carrying the flag for the Tigers. Glenbard West has Bruce Capel -- "The Original Hitter," who played for Illinois in the Rose Bowl alongside Dick Butkus. To this day the Hitters honor Capel, a Marine who was killed in the Vietnam War.
The 2009 Class 7A state title game was destined to be a classic.
There were no gimmicks with either team. Just solid defenses, solid kicking games and offenses that held no secrets.
WW South was led by junior quarterback Reilly O'Toole, who threw for more than 2,000 yards and helped the Tigers repeat the next season before moving on to Illinois. Glenbard West featured sophomore linemen Johnny Caspers, a Stanford recruit, and Ohio State-bound Tommy Schutt in addition to junior lineman Jordan Walsh, who played at Iowa.
You'd be hard-pressed to find that caliber of talent on today's football teams.
I always felt like Glenbard West was a little snakebit that day. The Hitters outgained WW South by 60 yards and twice picked off O'Toole, but with the score knotted at 17 in the final minute of regulation a 28-yard field goal went wide right.
And penalties against Glenbard West were a killer. One was a late hit in the first overtime that turned a first-and-25 into a first-and-goal for the trailing Tigers, who tied it at 24 three plays later.
In the second overtime every fan was either screaming wildly or holding their breath.
WW South's Matt Rogers scored on a 1-yard run to put the Tigers ahead 31-24. A run for no gain and three incomplete passes by Glenbard West finally ended it.
Wandering the field at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in the aftermath, I wanted to talk to everyone who played just to get their thoughts on being part of something so epic. I quoted six different people in my game story, but I bet I talked to a dozen more players and coaches.
I truly felt like I was documenting history.
Two years later the programs resumed their regular-season series with a Sunday season-opener broadcast nationally on ESPN, which clearly recognized the meaning of peak rivalry.
The worldwide leader in sports discovered something we knew all along.