Scouting the Class 3A state championship game between IC Catholic Prep and Williamsville
IC Catholic Prep (12-1) vs. Williamsville (12-1)
What: Class 3A state football championship game
When: Friday, 4 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, University of Illinois, Champaign
Seeds: IC Catholic Prep is the No. 4 seed in the top-half of the Class 3A bracket; Williamsville is the No. 3 seed in the bottom-half.
About the Knights: IC Catholic Prep is a perfect 5-0 in state championship games, looking for a sixth crown and fourth under current coach and former Knights player Bill Krefft (105-22 in 11 seasons at the helm). To do so, it will have to contend with a Williamsville team that dumped 2021 finalist Tolono Unity in the semifinals (just like IC did to 2021 champion Byron a week ago). "We know they are a highly successful program that has been in the 3A state championship or late in the playoffs year in and year out," Krefft said. "We know they are an explosive offense, ferocious on defense and very well coached. They have athletes all over the field and are a very fast-paced team. We know they won the southern bracket and are a very good football team. To be successful against them we need to find a way to stop them and we need to win plays on offense. We need to compete to the best of our abilities in all three phases of the football game to win." Of chief importance will be contending with Bullets quarterback Jake Seman. "He is a great football player and absolutely explosive," Krefft said. "He can run and throw the ball very well. He is extremely athletic and has great speed. It will be a challenge to keep him contained." ICCP's defense has given up only 48 points in its last six games and has six instances of limiting opponents to a touchdown or less. "Our kids are special," Kreftt said. "They work hard, focus on details, they want to be great and they work to be great so they have success. Our kids work hard on the fundamentals and have bought into our process. They are an extremely special group of kids. We have some kids who are very different. Kids you only get the chance to coach once in a lifetime. Our staff is special. Coach (Roger) Kelley, coach (Matt) Hornstra, coach (Matt) Bowen and coach (Michael) Calcagno all study the game and teach the kids at a very high level. They all manage their position groups well and make great adjustments quickly in football games. Coach Hornstra as the run game defensive coordinator and coach Bowen as the pass game defensive coordinator all work very well with defensive coordinator Roger Kelley to stop opposing teams." While on paper it might seem like running back Joey Gilatta has been a recent breakout star (44 carries, 383 yards and 7 scores in the last two playoff games after rushing 6 times for 101 yards and 2 scores prior to that), Krefft said that type of talent has been present all season. "Joey has been that player since Week 1 of his freshman year," he said. "Some members of staff have been talking about getting Joey to 'H' since that time. He is one of our best defensive players and we wanted to have a rotation of running backs all season. We love all of our running backs. They all have emerged over the season. We love them for how they have carried us in big games. IC prides itself on having great running backs. Coach (Matthew) Bettinazzi and coach (Jimmy) Wislek do a great job developing greatness at this position." Dennis Mandala, an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 3A all-state first-team pick, has passed for 2,451 yards and 33 touchdowns against only 4 picks. He's completed 68% of his passes. KJ Parker, also an IHSFCA all-state first-teamer, has caught 33 passes for 996 yards (30.2 yards per catch) and 15 scores. Krefft said the Knights offensive line that includes the likes of JP Schmidt, Caleb Ellis and Eric Karner must also be celebrated. "Our kids make our offense go," he said. "They have executed at a high level consistently. They are having fun and love the system because of our offensive coaching staff, including Matt Doherty, Bill Schmidt and Virge Gerin. The offensive staff does a great job of adjusting our offense every week to attack the weaknesses they see in opposing defenses." Krefft pointed out Jayden Sutton has been a two-way starter for multiple seasons. In the four playoff games thus far he has 21 pancakes at left tackle and leads an offensive line that has averaged 199.5 rushing yards per game in the playoffs. "He has been a dominant force on both sides of the line," Krefft said. "He protects the blind side of Dennis, who has not been sacked in the playoffs." Senior Jesse Smith has been versatile for the Knights at guard, fullback and tight end on offense. "Jesse has been a versatile weapon on both sides of the ball and has been crucial as a lead blocker for our running backs and fullbacks all playoffs," Krefft said. He has 11 pancakes in the playoffs. Defensively, Smith has played all three linebacker positions and on the defensive line. He leads IC in tackles with 94 despite playing only eight games due to injury. Karner, Krefft added, also has been critical, playing wide receiver and tight end. In addition to elite blocking, Karner caught a 38-yard score in the overtime Princeton playoff game that sparked the Knights' comeback from being down 14-0. He also snared a 68-yard TD in the semifinal win over Byron that ballooned the lead to 21-0. Krefft called JP Schmidt the vocal leader of the IC defense. "He is like a coach on the field in many ways," he said. "JP is able to get our defense aligned to the opposing teams' formations. He is able to play fast because of his attention to detail and knowledge of the schemes." Senior Denzell Gibson is another versatile stalwart, splitting time between running back and wide receiver on offense. "His versatility has been a huge asset on both sides," Krefft said. Gibson has run for 819 yards and has 521 receiving yards and leads the team in total touchdowns with 20. He also starts at corner. "Denzell is able to line up on the other team's best wide receiver and limit their production." One more key name is Nathen Omolo, a two-year starter on the offensive line (guard this season). He started 7 games at left tackle as a sophomore and has jumped In and played center some. He anchors a line that has allowed ICCP runners to average 8.7 yards a touch. "A big reason for our success in the run game is because of Nathen's ability to drive block and pull out in space to spring big runs on the edge," Krefft pointed out.
About the Bullets: Williamsville, from around the Springfield area, is in the state title game for the third time in program history (won the 2019 3A title and second in 2014 in 3A). "IC Catholic Pep has an incredible football program and an outstanding team for this 2022 campaign," said Williamsville coach Aaron Kunz, who is 174-48 in 20 seasons. "They are very physical, well-coached and have so many athletes. They are big-play capable on offense and very stingy on defense. To be successful against them we are going to have to get off blocks and tackle well. Offensively, we are going to have to take care of the football and make plays." The Bullets have 23 seniors on the roster. "They have been selfless and willing to sacrifice for the good of our football team," Kunz said. "Our offense has scored a lot of points by being balanced between running and throwing the football. Defensively, we have been really good, especially during our playoff run. When you have so many seniors on your team, once every game is win or go home, the intensity often ramps up. This is the case with this year's group. They have been very hungry since the playoffs started. We have had so many kids step up and improve over these past five weeks." The aforementioned Seman (5-11, 175), also a member of the IHSFCA 3A all-state first team, has thrown for 2,500 yards and 33 touchdowns (6 interceptions) and run the ball 157 times for 828 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is Williamsville's all-time passing touchdown and yards leader. Senior Ethan Hinds (6-2, 195) has 61 catches for 823 yards and 13 touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Jackson Workman (5-11, 185) has 39 catches for 639 yards and 8 scores. The offensive line is led by 6-9, 290-pound senior tackle Jacob Finley. Defensively, senior inside linebacker Colin Ripperda (5-8, 180) has 129 tackles and 11 tackles for loss, while senior defensive end Sam McCoy (6-3, 175) has 52 tackles, 12 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Senior free safety Nolan Bates (5-11, 160) has 108 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2 picks, while senior defensive tackle John Layman (6-1, 215) has 81 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.