CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Wheaton Warrenville South never lost faith it was capable of winning a third consecutive state championship.
The Tigers weren’t phased when they graduated nearly every starter from last year’s title-winning team. They didn’t panic when they dropped three of their first four games this year. They didn’t give up when they were handed a No. 8 seed in the playoffs and were the underdogs against Lincoln-Way East, East St. Louis and St. Rita.
Even on Saturday in the Class 7A state championship, the Tigers had plenty of reasons to hang their heads early and hand over the crown to Rockford Boylan. But they didn’t.
It wasn’t until the clock finally showed all zeros Saturday that Wheaton Warrenville South accepted defeat. The Tigers’ improbable playoff run ended with a 21-14 loss to Boylan in the Class 7A championship.
“These kids have come through a tremendous challenge this year,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “I’m very proud of how they responded to the challenges and very proud they stood tall to the very end of this game.”
Boylan (14-0) looked to have Wheaton Warrenville South down for the count a number of times.
The Titans, winners of the Class 6A state title last year, jumped on Wheaton Warrenville South on their first play of scrimmage, scoring on a 72-yard run by quarterback Lamont Toney. They extended the lead to 13-0 by halftime with 27- and 24-yard field goals by Sean Slattery.
Wheaton Warrenville (10-4) found some life in the second half when Dan Vitale scored on a 24-yard touchdown run with 5:19 left in the third quarter. Like that, the Tigers were only down 13-7.
Boylan looked for another knockout punch when it went ahead 21-7 on a 79-yard pass from Toney to Jaxson Meister at 11:50 of the fourth quarter.
But the Tigers weren’t going away. Wheaton Warrenville South linebacker Adam Dansdill gave his team hope again when he stripped Boylan’s ball carrier, grabbed the ball and ran in for a touchdown with 5:49 remaining in the game.
On Boylan’s next possession, Dansdill came through again and blocked Boylan’s field-goal attempt.
“I was just playing for my teammates,” Dansdill said. “Everything we do out there is for one another. That’s how we’ve played all season. We just fight and scratch and claw for one another.”
That would be end of the Tigers’ magic. They turned the ball over on downs on the following drive, and Boylan took a knee to end the game.
“We had a chance,” Muhitch said. “We did it a lot of different ways this year than typical football. That blocked kick at the end
of the game is exactly what the Tigers have done every single week. Somehow a way to compete, some way to give them a chance to win a game.”
Vitale was disappointed in losing, but he felt Wheaton Warrenville South could be proud of its season.
“We proved a lot of people wrong,” Vitale said. “A lot of people doubted us. We showed we could be like every other team in South’s history. We wrote our own chapter as seniors. It didn’t turn out as we wanted to, but I think we’ll be remembered.”
Vitale rushed for 121 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.
Wheaton Warrenville South’s Brandon Peterson had game-high 12 tackles. Colin Schwerin had three sacks.
Thomas finished with 135 rushing yards for Boylan. Toney also had 86 rushing yards and a touchdown, and he was 6-of-9 passing for 133 yards and a touchdown.