By Mark Gregory
The Plainfield North football team will be busy this Thanksgiving, but will have a lot to celebrate this as the Tigers will be in the midst of preparing for their first-ever appearance in the IHSA football state finals.
Coming off a thrilling and controversial semifinal win, North will battle undefeated East St. Louis Sr. at 4 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign for the Class 7A state championship.
How they got here
Plainfield North (11-2) is the No. 16 seed in the Class 7A bracket and advanced to the title game with an 18-17 win over No. 4 Fenwick in a controversial match ending.
With the Tigers losing 17-10 and three seconds left on the clock, Fenwick quarterback Jacob Keller, on fourth-and-15, heaved the ball down the field as the sideline erupted in celebration.
The Friars, they thought, were headed to their first-ever state final.
However, the officials called intentional grounding and, wrongly as was admitted by the IHSA after the game, awarded Plainfield North the ball back for one final untimed play.
With that play, Connor Peplow kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie the game.
After Fenwick scored first in overtime and kicked the PAT, North also scored on a Dillon McCarthy run left, the Tigers decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the win.
It was McCarthy again, who ran a 36-bounce to the right side and beat the defenders to the pylon to send the Tigers to their first-ever state title appearance.
Prior to that game, the Tigers knocked off No. 8 Rockford Auburn (30-7), No. 1 Bradley- Bourbonnais (49-20) and No. 17 Highland Park (42-0).
In the other semifinal, No. 2 East St. Louis (12-0) blanked No. 11 Benet 20-0.
East St. Louis held Benet to 13 rushing attempts that netted minus 34 yards, while holding the football for ball for 35 minutes and 7 seconds, compared to 12:53 for Benet.
“Yes, they were the best defense we saw this season,” Benet senior quarterback Jack Sznajder said. “They were fast to the ball and made it tough.”
Prior to that, the Flyers knocked off No. 23 Willowbrook (60-27), Glenbard North (32-28) and Lincoln-Way West (44-7).
This is the sixth trip to the playoffs and third in a row for Plainfield North, with the Tigers coming into this year’s postseason 0-5. This year the Tigers won their first-ever playoff game and have not looked back, claiming four straight.
“We wanted to not only change history by winning a playoff game, but we said in June that we were going to change it by winning state,” said running back Tyler Hoosman. “East St. Louis is a great team and they will be well prepared, so this week in practice, we need to go over all of our plays and make sure we know everything. We have to go hard in practice and in the weight room, so we can be ready for East St. Louis.”
The Flyers come into the game having made the playoffs 36 times in its history – winning state seven times and finishing second three times.
East St. Louis is fourth all time in titles, behind JCA (13), Mt. Carmel (12) and Providence (10), making the Flyers the public team with the most state titles.
When Plainfield North has the ball
All season lo–ng, the Tigers have shown a balanced offensive attack behind quarterback Brady Miller and a stable of receivers as well as running backs Hoosman and McCarthy.
North heads into the final contest of the season averaging 40.15 points per game and scoring more than 40 points in eight of its 13 games this year.
On the season, Miller has completed 139 of 238 passes attempted for 1,882 yards and 20 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Connor Peplow has been his prime target, however, TJ Kane, Nico Capezio and Ryan Krystofiak have all contributed as have the backs.
When running the ball, North sets the tone with Hoosman, but McCarthy is a change of pace back that brings a different look to the North backfield.
Hoosman has 221 carries for 1,627 yards and 26 scores.
On defense, East St. Louis is one of the top defenses in the state allowing only 10 points per game on the season. It has posted five shutouts , including the most recent blanking of Benet Academy to reach the title game.
The Flyers are led by a trio of sack-happy pass rushers.
LaMontre’ Harvey leads the team with 11 quarterback sacks, while Ken Dixon and Eric Owens Jr. each have 10.
James Knight leads the team with 137 tackles, followed by Harvey (112) and Dixon (111).
Two-way standout Jeff Thomas leads the team with four interceptions.
When East St. Louis has the ball
The Flyers are paced by Missouri-bound quarterback Reyondus Estes who on the season is has completed 133-of-237 passes for 2,344 yards and 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has carried the ball 81 times for 512 times and eight scores.
Estes is far from the only weapon East St. Louis has.
In the passing game, Estes’ main target has been Thomas, who has offers on the table from several NCAA Division-I powers including Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Florida State. He has hauled in 55 passes for 1,093 yards and 12 scores. He is followed by Charlando Robinson who has caught 29 passes for 497 passes and five TDs.
In the run game, Jarrell Anderson leads the team with 244 carries for 1,391 yards and 20 scores, while Kevin Brown has added 801 yards on 131 carries and has scored 15 times.
Like the Flyers, Plainfield North also boasts a talented defense, allowing 9.15 points per game and posting four shutouts on the season, including three straight in the regular season.
Defensively for North, they are paced by a linebacking group led by JJ Frey and Will Stoll. Frey leads the team with 85 tackles, while Stoll adds 79 and five quarterback sacks. Ari Ekowa has 49 tackles and nine sacks for North, while Tim Donnahue has six sacks.
In pass defense, Kevin Block leads the team with 15 pass breakups and four interceptions, while McCarthy adds five breakups and three picks.