Amherdt's last-second field goal sends Prairie Ridge to state
Prairie Ridge showed that it can be just as resourceful as it is prolific to win a game.
The Wolves, save one 49-yard Tyler Vasey touchdown run, were held in check by St. Ignatius for a good portion of Saturday's Class 6A playoffs semifinal game.
No. 2-seeded Prairie Ridge, which prefers to do its business with its triple-option running attack, was saved by two late fourth-down pass plays -- one for a touchdown, one for a crucial pass interference penalty. The second of those set up Brogan Amherdt's first field goal of his career in a 21-19 victory over the No. 4 Wolfpack.
Prairie Ridge (12-1) will meet East St. Louis (11-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Illinois' Memorial Stadium for the championship. Those two teams played for the title in 2019.
"It's one of those things you never know," Wolves coach Chris Schremp said. "You practice things all year and all summer. You tell the kids, 'Be ready for this or that,' and today was the day they had to be ready for this or that, because that was a tough team.
"Ignatius came out and were a physical football team. It was tough sledding today. I'm really proud of our kids and how they hung with it."
The lead changed hands four times in the final 5:00. Twice in that span, Vasey set up scoring drives with kickoff returns of 45 and 41 yards.
Vasey carried 39 times for 171 yards, more than 200 below what he averaged in the three previous playoff games. The Wolfpack's tough defense and the slick frozen ground on Prairie Ridge's field made running difficult.
"Just relentless pursuit," St. Ignatius running back-linebacker Vinny Ruggai said. "Eleven to the ball on every play. It starts in practice. We have a good sophomore who gave us a good look all week. I feel like we held him to the least he's had. He's a good football player."
St. Ignatius had grabbed a 13-12 lead with 5:00 remaining on Ruggai's 8-yard touchdown run.
The Wolves faced fourth-and-2 at the Wolfpack 22 and Vasey rolled right and fired a scoring pass to Drake Tomasiewicz with 2:45 to go.
"I looked at my first look and he wasn't open," Vasey said. "I didn't see Drake until the last second and he's kind of been my No. 1 all year and I was like, 'There you go, go get it,' and he went and got it. I'm so happy."
The Wolfpack scored in three plays with Ruggai running it in from 34 yards out, but the two-point conversion run was stopped, leaving St. Ignatius with a 19-18 lead.
It looked bleak for the Wolves when Vasey was sacked on a third down for a 7-yard loss, leaving them with fourth-and-17 from the Wolfpack's 35. Tomasiewicz ran a similar route to the scoring play and came back to the ball, drawing a pass interference call that made it fourth-and-2 at the 20.
Vasey ran for 8 yards and Prairie Ridge called timeout with 9.7 to go to set up Amherdt's game-winner.
"I saw the ball coming to me and (the defender) had hands on me, so I had to sell the P.I.," Tomasiewicz said.
St. Ignatius expected a fake.
"I wasn't sure they were going to actually go for the field goal, but he made it," Wolfpack coach Matt Miller said. "When we scored that last one, we looked around and were like, 'Dang, we left a little too much time.' We really felt good about the last score and just didn't make the play down the stretch."
Amherdt, who is a goalkeeper for the soccer team, kicked a ball that looked like it would have been good from 40 yards out.
St. Ignatius tried several laterals on the final kickoff, but was stopped before midfield, sending the Wolves to the 6A championship game for the fifth time since 2011.
"We've done it all year," Schremp said. "We've been down a couple touchdowns and just keep plugging away. I had a good feeling still with 2:00 left because we have Tyler Vasey, who makes some plays, and he gets a good return. Things just felt good."
The 25-degree temperature and stiff winds made it difficult on both offenses. Vasey said solid footing was hard to find all day.
"We thought we'd have home-field advantage, they've never played on grass before and we've never played on ice before either," Vasey said. "We played on frozen ground today, it was terrible. Everything you would do you're slipping. There was a play when my head was down for like 2 yards and I was like, 'I could get smacked here and it would not feel good.' "
This will be the sixth consecutive season that either Prairie Ridge or Cary-Grove will represent the Fox Valley Conference in the 6A title game. Prairie Ridge won in 2016 and 2017, C-G won in 2018 and 2021.