For Sacred Heart-Griffin, this sport is what they have been combating for for a yr.
For the opponent of the cyclones, it’s a probability to finish an extended drought.
1st-ranked Sacred Heart-Griffin (13-0) meets Ninth-ranked New Lenox Providence Catholic (9-4) within the Class 4A State Championship Game on the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign at 7 p.m. Friday.
SHG coach Ken Leonard mentioned his gamers and Providence’s Catholic gamers shared many similarities.
“They’re cast in the same mold as the Providence kids, the Catholic League kids in Chicago,” Leonard mentioned. “You are robust. I’ve seen Providence and I’m so impressed: they’re very properly skilled they usually’re after you.
“In that first half and against Waterloo we didn’t play with the intensity that we’ve played for most of the rest of the year. Hopefully that doesn’t happen against Providence – it can’t happen or we’ll lose.”
More:The top-ranked Sacred Heart Griffin can win an IHSA football state title. Here’s how
To get here, the No. 2 seed defeated SHG Rochester 56-42 in a crazy comeback from a 28-0 deficit on Friday, November 18 in the semifinals. On Saturday, November 19, No. 13 Providence Catholic beat Wheaton St. Francis 17-14 in the other semifinal.
The Celtics have won 10 state championships and finished as runners-up three times. But the seven seasons since their last appearance in the title game is the longest since 1987, when Providence Catholic first played the final game of the season after the Illinois High School Association began the football playoffs in 1974. The Celtics 2014 Class 7A State Championship is the only one for the program since 2004.
SHG is on course for its 12th state championship game in Leonard’s final season before retirement. The Cyclones made it this far a year ago, returning much of the roster from their 56-27 loss to Joliet Catholic.
Leonard, who has five state championships under his belt and a 418-81 record that makes him the most successful coach in Illinois high school history, is seeking one final win to cap off his 43rd season.
“It never feels like being in a state championship,” Leonard said. “It’s so hard to come here and I know coach Plantz is just starting out. So if I have any advice for him, it’s to absorb him because it’s just not that easy.”
SHG has the star power. The Cyclones have two Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 4A All-Staters, quarterback Ty Lott and linebacker Cory West, who are teaming up with All-State honoree Madixx Morris.
Providence Catholic had no players on that list or, according to Plantz, in the All-Chicago Catholic League either. But don’t worry, he said.
“I wouldn’t say we have a guy under the radar; If anything, our entire team is,” mentioned Plantz, a former Providence Catholic, in his freshman season.
More:Which makes this senior quarterback a champion at Sacred Heart-Griffin
While SHG may need the expertise issue for the State Finals, the Celtics really feel their schedule ready them for something. Of Providence’s 4 losses, two got here from IHSA state champions from a yr in the past – 7A Champion Wheaton North and 4A Champion Joliet Catholic, who defeated SHG. The different two losses have been to 7A runners-up Chicago St. Rita and an 8A finalist from that season, Loyola.
“I think it’s important to play at such a high level,” mentioned Plantz. “You threw those children into the fire. These kids are sophomores and they play three defending champions in their first four games. You will learn quickly. You go ahead and play Loyola, who (who is finishing for the 8A state championship) and literally, you almost beat the damn team and you lose cover late in the game and lose by touchdown.
“St. Rita virtually hit Mt. Carmel (within the 7A semis) the opposite day and the place you gave up zero yards within the first half and I clearly discovered a option to badly coach the second half. These guys discovered, they performed at a excessive degree they usually noticed the sport rapidly and needed to digest the sport rapidly they usually needed to play 4 quarters of soccer. Learning was nice.”
The Celtics have 4 sophomores within the beginning lineup.
“I was confident throughout the season,” mentioned Plantz. “Obviously the boys are young, we have a lot of sophomores – especially in defense – so that was a little bit of progress: how do we teach these kids, how do we bring them along?
“All summer the biggest focus has been on basic football: how do we block, how do we tackle, how do we just move? Finally getting the sophomores on the field was a huge hit and you could see the lads compete with the best of them throughout the year, but it was just a dumb game here – like a rookie mistake you put yourself in the Head as a coach and you’re like, “Everyone in the country must think you’re the worst football coach in America.” It’s been fun watching the kids grow and the coolest thing is seeing them rise to the challenge.”
Providence Catholic has been heavily challenged this season. Plantz said his starters played into the fourth quarter of every game. Leonard’s starters at SHG have only done this twice. But it was in the playoffs – against Waterloo in the second round and coming back from a 28-point deficit against Rochester last week.
Although Leonard’s 500th and final game is ending, he’s looking forward to the trip.
“It was a terrific experience,” he said. “It’s the final week and I’m trying ahead to it. I soak all of it up and it goes by in a short time.”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, [email protected], Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.