CHICAGO -- A year ago, Wheaton Warrenville South couldn’t have been more certain about its quarterback.
Reilly O'Toole, last year’s ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year, was undoubtedly the starter from the opening day of practice to when the Tigers lifted their second consecutive Class 7A state championship.
A year later, Wheaton Warrenville South couldn’t be less certain about its quarterback. Having already lost sophomore Ryan Graham to a season-ending injury, the Tigers also found themselves without senior quarterback Thaddeus Armstrong when he suffered a concussion during the first half of Saturday’s Class 7A semifinal against St. Rita.
With no other options, Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch turned to Jordan Davis, who started on the sophomore team this season. And just as the Tigers have seemed to do just enough each week of the 2011 playoffs, Davis came through with just enough on Saturday in a 21-14 win over St. Rita as the Tigers advanced to their third consecutive state championship game.
The Tigers (10-3) will face Rockford Boylan, which defeated Lake Zurich, for the state title. Boylan won the Class 6A state championship last season.
“Maybe that’s the destiny of this team this year is to play team football,” Muhitch said.
If there’s one individual who does stand out on this year’s team it’s Dan Vitale, and he made his presence known in the opening half.
Vitale put Wheaton Warrenville South ahead 21-0 with three touchdowns in the game’s first 15 minutes.
On the Tigers’ first drive, he scored on a 1-yard run to go ahead 7-0. After an interception by Zach Kyllonen, Vitale scored from 4 yards out to go up 14-0. Finally, he added another 4-yard touchdown run with 9:58 left in the second quarter, and Tigers had built a 21-0 advantage.
Vitale had 82 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries in the first half. He finished with 124 yards on 35 carries.
“He’s tough to tackle obviously,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “We knew that coming in. We knew he was their guy. We knew he was going to get the ball. That’s a credit to them, when everybody knew who was going to be the guy, and he still did a good job with it.”
St. Rita (10-3) did make it a game. It closed out the first half with a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Scott Thomas to Kenny Golladay to pull within 21-7. Thomas hooked up with Golladay again for a touchdown with 4:35 left in the game to make it a 21-14 contest.
St. Rita got the ball back with 1:51 left and had a chance to drive down to tie the game. But on the first play, Wheaton Warrenville South defensive lineman Colin Schwerin knocked the ball out of Thomas’ hands while he was scrambling, and the Tigers recovered it.
Davis took three knees, and Wheaton Warrenville South moved on to the state title game despite starting the season 1-3.
“We’re just shocking a lot of people,” Vitale said. “We always knew we had it within ourselves, but a lot of other people didn’t. After we lost to [Glenbard] West, I think I said state championships aren’t won in August; it’s won in November.”