Gibson scores 3 TDs, powers IC Prep to win over St. Francis
In the regular season finale between Metro Suburban Conference division champs and longtime rivals, it was Denzell Gibson who took center stage Friday night.
The IC Catholic Prep senior scored 3 touchdowns to help the Knights to a come-from-behind 25-14 victory over previously unbeaten St. Francis in Elmhurst.
His biggest play was a 81-yard catch and run off a screen pass from Dennis Mandala which gave the Knights an 18-14 lead shortly into the fourth quarter.
"That was just a play we needed to execute to get the win," said Gibson, who finished with 3 catches for 108 yards. "We could see that their D-ends were really crashing. We let them through (on that play) and it opened up the seam.
"St. Francis is a very tough team, that's a great program and they've got great players. This is a great win for us and a steppingstone for our team going into the playoffs where we are going to see a lot of great teams."
Gibson's 23-yard scamper to the end zone put the contest out of reach with 2:46 remaining. Gibson tallied 98 yards on 19 attempts, adding a four-yard TD at the end of the first half, as the Knights (8-1) ended a three-game losing streak to the Spartans (8-1).
"Obviously the last three years weren't the best for us," Gibson said, "but we came out and did what we had to do. We executed. We are a versatile team and we have a lot of dogs on this team; we grind it out. If you come here (to ICCP), you better be ready to work."
Putting in a lot of work was the Knights' defense, which held a St. Francis offense that was averaging nearly 47 points per game coming in scoreless in the second half. ICCP racked up 7 sacks, three from Marcheon Griffin.
"This shows all our hard work pays off," Griffin said. "The coaches put us through the grinder every day at practice. We come to work every day striving to achieve our end goal which is to make it to state.
"Our coaches put in a great game plan for this team and they were a great 8-0 team. They definitely have some athletes. All the credit goes to our scheme. They have a great O-line but it just came down to us running our scheme."
Dominik Hulak, Mikey Calcagno, Jesse Smith and Nathan Schmidt all recorded sacks while the Knights also blocked a field goal.
Dennis Mandala passed for 240 yards, including a 22-yard TD to JP Schmidt to begin the scoring.
"All the credit goes to our kids," said ICCP coach Bill Krefft, whose team will compete in the Class 3A playoffs. "Our kids are warriors. The surge and fight they had, just absolute credit to them. And the way they attacked the week and how they practiced, there is a resilience and drive within them.
"That is the best football team we've seen all year. They are physical, disciplined and athletic. But the spirit of our program is alive and well."
Trailing 6-0 at the outset, St. Francis got a pair of touchdowns from Brady Piper. The senior found the end zone on a 6-yard pass from Alessio Milivojevic and shortly thereafter scored on a 10-yard run to make it 14-6 midway through the second quarter.
But penalties would hurt the Spartans from there, backing them up multiple times when they were within the red zone.
"You can't have 17 penalties against a good football team," said St. Francis coach Bob McMillan. "IC played a phenomenal football game. They are a well-coached team over there. But we shot ourselves in the foot.
"I thought we played great defensively and I thought we played well offensively at times. It was the penalties that hurt us. This humbles us. We did this to IC last year, ended their undefeated season and they went on and had a great run in the playoffs. Hopefully we can follow suit."
Milivojevic was 18-of-27 through the air for 191 yards for St. Francis, which will be in Class 4A. Piper had 68 yards on 12 attempts. Liam Kolinski added an interception and fumble recovery.