Wheaton Academy 'didn't capitalize on our opportunities' in loss to Providence
With the clock winding down toward zero in the first quarter of a scoreless playoff game it looked like Providence Catholic would be content with letting the time run out and regroup to start the second quarter.
Lucas Proudfoot fired a 58-yard touchdown pass to junior Alex Gibson on the final play of the first quarter. That gave the No. 13-seeded Celtics the momentum and their defense did the rest in a 17-3 victory over No. 4-seeded Wheaton Academy in an opening-round Class 4A playoff game on Friday night.
Providence (6-4) will host Joliet Catholic Academy (8-2), a 43-6 winner over Phillips (5-5), next week in a second-round matchup. The Warriors (8-2) bowed out in the first round after having their most successful regular season in school history.
"I was pushing the guys, telling them, 'Let's go," Proudfoot said of the touchdown play at the end of the first quarter. "I wanted to score. It was a huge momentum changer. Alex made a great adjustment on the ball and hauled it in."
That capped an 8-play, 96-yard drive that happened because the Celtics' defense came up with the first of a trio of goal-line stands. Proudfoot, a senior who finished 7-of-10 passing for 139 yards, had his first pass of the evening intercepted by sophomore Giovanni Spinelli at the Providence 35-yard line.
Wheaton Academy moved to a third-and-goal at the 1-yard line but lost a yard and then fumbled on fourth down.
"The defense came up clutch," Proudfoot said. "I knew I made a mistake (on the interception) but they were there to back me up. (The Warriors) came in averaging over 40 points per game (outscoring their opponents 384-66) and we held them to 3."
That was helped by another goal-line stand midway through the second quarter. This time the Celtics turned back Wheaton Academy after a first-and-goal situation at the 1-yard line. The Warriors did concert a 23-yard field goal by senior Brandon Hoekstra with 5:24 left in the first half to make it 7-3.
Some of the standouts on the Providence defense included seniors Billy Jones, Alex Lubinski, Mason Santiago, and sophomore Jayden Mikulski. Sophomore Gavin Hagen added an interception for the Celtics.
"Our defense just does a great job of flying to the ball and playing tough," Providence first-year coach Tyler Plantz said. "It was just a great team effort and that's the culture, the belief on this team.
"It was a good team win and I can't be any more proud of everyone on defense."
Providence looked to add to the lead late in the first half but had a touchdown run called back because of illegal procedure. So the Celtics settled for a 23-yard field goal by freshman Sean Sample with 16 seconds left in the second quarter and led 10-3 at halftime.
Following a short punt and a personal foul penalty on Wheaton Academy, the Celtics started their first possession of the second half at the Warriors 18. Three plays later, Proudfoot pounded in from the one and Providence led 17-3 with 9:18 left in the third quarter.
"I just trust my center, Sean Dee," Proudfoot said of the senior. "I'm just really proud of the guys, this is a huge win."
Junior running back Jamari Tribett finished with 26 carries for 146 yards for the Celtics.
"It's always good to keep the foot on the gas on offense," Plantz said. "It was awesome to see Lucas make that play (at the end of the first quarter) and see how hard he worked at leading the offense."
Wheaton Academy had one more chance at the end of the third quarter. But on fourth-and-3 from the Providence 5-yard line, senior quarterback Belay Brummel was pressed by Jones and threw an incomplete pass. Brummel finished 14 of 25 with one interception for 175 yards.
History-wise, the Warriors were making their sixth playoff appearance but their second straight and fifth since 2015. They entered the game with two total playoff wins.
On the flip side, Providence was making its 38th postseason appearance but the first since 2019. The Celtics entered with 89 playoff wins, 10 state championships, and three state runner-up finishes.
"To come in and be in the same conversation as a storied program like Providence, we're proud of that," Wheaton Academy coach Jim Johanik said. "But we should have scored three touchdowns. We didn't capitalize on our opportunities.
"There was a size mismatch between us and them but we hung with them. At the end of the day, there's a lot to be proud of."
Two storied programs will meet again in round two of the playoffs. The Celtics hosted JCA in a conference game on Sept. 16 and lost 49-41. They will get a second chance this coming weekend.
"We're excited," Plantz said of playing the Hilltoppers. "Those guys do a great job over there and it's one of the great game matchups in all of high school football. It'll be fun."