By Mark Gregory
CHAMPAIGN – After a week surrounded by questions and controversy about its place in the IHSA Class 7A state title game, the Plainfield North football team did the only thing it new how to – play the game.
And while the Tigers came out on the wrong side of the 26-13 final score – what they showed the state was that they did belong.
After a week where the validity of its appearance in the finals was not only questioned, but argued in court and a first half where it played like a team in its first-ever state final, North scored the final 13 points of the game to show its doubters it could hang with one of the state’s premier programs.
“We let up too many big plays on defense,” North coach Tim Kane said after the game. “We have been pretty good defensively all year, but we had too many big plays. They have a lot of good football players and a lot of weapons. [Defensively] we knew on film they were going to get after it and they didn’t surprise us. They got after us and they kept coming. Their two linebackers made a lot of plays and they play sideline to sideline.”
Two of the big plays the Tigers allowed came in the first quarter, putting North down 12-0 at the end of one period.
The big strike was a 43-yard touchdown pass from Reyondous Estes to Jeff Thomas for the second score of the quarter.
“That Thomas is a heck of a player and their quarterback made some big plays in the first half,” Kane said. “We played some teams with some pretty good athletes, but [Thomas] is pretty dynamic. He made some plays and we had a couple of blown coverages that didn’t help us. I am not making excuses, but we lined up wrong and they got behind us and he was a dynamic football player. He was a game changer.”
Thomas finished the game with three catches for 105 yards and a pair of scores, as he added a 61-yard score in the third quarter to make it 26-0 in favor of the Flyers.
While the North defense allowed some big plays to Thomas, it only allowed a total of 241 yards – 137 yards to everyone other than the major college recruit.
The Tiger defense allowed only 20 points on the game – tying for the least amount of points scored by the Flyer offense all season.
The scoreboard read 26 tallied by East St. Louis, but six were on a Class 7A title game-record 85-yard interception return for a score by Eric Owens.
Estes only completed two passes for 15 yards outside of the strikes to Thomas, while Jarrell Anderson paced all ball carries with 86 yards on 23 carries.
Tyler Hoosman led the Tigers, gaining 67 yards on 17 carries, while quarterback Brady Miller tallied 44 net yards on the ground, which included a 53 yard scoring run.
Miller was 12-of-24 passing for 130 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
His score was a 23-yard pass to Connor Peplow late in the game. Peplow led all receivers with seven catches for 95 yards.
Defensively, North’s JJ Frey led both teams with seven solo tackles, while Tim Donnahue added five stops, including a pair of sacks.
While taking second was not what they wanted to do, the Tigers’ season was one for the record books.
North set several school marks along the way and in doing so became the first Plainfield District 202 school to compete in the state football final.
“We wanted to win, but it has been really cool making history in our own school and seeing all the support from the community has been really cool,” Miller said.
Kane knows that while the outcome was not what it wanted, what North did is a program changer.
“It was a great experience for our kids to be here and the IHSA did a great job,” he said. “They are a first class operation. These kids are so coachable and are such great kids. I am glad I am here with them and glad they brought me along for the ride. If you look at the playoffs and you look at who we played and how well we played against them, it says a lot about these young men and the steps that our program took.
“We went on a pretty good run to get here. The kids beat some pretty good football teams and went through some adversity.”
That adversity came in the form of the lawsuit filed days after North’s 18-17 overtime win over Fenwick in the semifinal, where the IHSA admitted after the game that the officials had made a wrong call awarding North the chance to tie the game at the end of regulation.
As he and the program had done all week, Kane continued to stand behind his team.
“We have taken the high road all week and that is what we will continue to do,” Kane said. “We had some adversity and that is what football is. Whether it is on a certain drive, during the game or during the week, you are going to have adversity.
“We talk about it all the time – we can only worry about what we can control and we need to control what we can control and come out with a great attitude and positive mental energy and I thought our kids did a great job this week preparing with all the outside noise going on. Obviously, we didn’t get the outcome we want. We came here to win the game. But I think it was a credit for these kids to be prepared through that and they continued to play into the fourth quarter.”
The appearance in the state final sets a new bar for the Tigers coming back, such as Miller, but it also leaves a legacy for the seniors.
“We had a pretty good foundation set in the program as far as getting set and getting in the playoffs, we just couldn’t win the games,” Kane said. “Now that we have won games, this is the legacy that they will leave. Every year we talk to our seniors about what your legacy will be and how you will add to the program and we see how these guys have added to the program. So, I think the kids coming up will see how hard you have to work, the time you have to put in and how much you have to love the game of football. But we want them to see it is possible. Now, we don’t want to just qualify for the playoffs, we want to go deep in the playoffs.
This is an outstanding group. They were very successful as freshmen and sophomores. Their sophomore year, we had three of them on the varsity and they still went undefeated. Hopefully it allows the kids who are coming back to understand that anything is possible when you work hard and continue to believe and continue to trust your teammates and trust your schemes.”