CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Wheaton Warrenville South senior quarterback Reilly O’Toole had proven himself in nearly every way this season.
His accuracy was unmatched. He tossed 40 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He displayed a long ball that hadn’t been there a year ago. He wasn’t afraid to get of the pocket and take off when needed. Tigers coach Ron Muhitch has described him as the complete package, and he was named the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year.
The only question left about O’Toole was how he would react if he was ever under pressure this season. He and the Tigers had won all 13 of their previous games by 20 or more points, and they hadn’t trailed in the fourth quarter all season.
On Saturday, O’Toole answered that final query in Wheaton Warrenville South’s 28-17 win over Lake Zurich, giving the Tigers their second consecutive Class 7A state championship at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
With Wheaton Warrenville South trailing 17-14 with 11:49 remaining, O’Toole stepped back on the field with a different focus than he had before. He wasn’t looking for the big play. He was going to make sure the Tigers got in the end zone piece by piece. This was going to be a drive. His drive. The Reilly O’Toole drive.
He began it with an eight-yard run. The next play he rolled to his left and connected with Jason Schumann for nine yards. O’Toole rushed for one yard on the following play. He then rolled to his right, threw across the field and the ball soared just above Lake Zurich’s leaping defender’s hands and into Ryan Crowe’s grasp for a 22-yard play. O’Toole ran the ball again on the next play and picked up another nine yards. Matt Rogers carried it then for two yards. O’Toole went back to the air and hit Titus Davis for a nine-yard again and followed that up with a 13-yard pass to Davis. Finally, Rogers punched it in from a yard out, and the Tigers went ahead 21-17.
Wheaton Warrenville South wouldn’t trail again.
“I struggled early in the game, so I just had to buckle down and just make the easy play, not try to do too much,” O’Toole said. “It worked. It was a really good drive. I think that changed the game.”
As Rogers put it, “It was the drive of our life.”
The drive nor the season will be forgotten anytime soon at Wheaton Warrenville South. Ranked atop the state and in the nation’s top 20, the Tigers went 14-0, trounced 13 of their opponents and pulled through when Lake Zurich and its stellar defense pushed them to the brink.
“Sometimes you never see the true character of the competitor until you’re tested,” Muhitch said. “I think tonight was that night that the Tigers rally showed what they have inside.
“I knew Lake Zurich was a great football team defensively. I knew [Jacob] Brinlee was a great running back. Sometimes that combination tests you to your soul, and I think that’s exactly what Lake Zurich did today.”
Rogers added, “As a senior to be able to do this, to have an undefeated season and probably go down as one of the best teams in your program’s history is an incredible feeling. It’s just amazing feeling to be back-to-back champs.”
Underestimated as they had been for most of the playoffs, the Bears (12-2) were only a few plays away from shocking Wheaton Warrenville South.
Lake Zurich’s defense continued to shine, and Brinlee emerged as the offensive presence the Bears needed to stick with Wheaton Warrenville South. He rushed for a Class 7A state championship record 226 yards.
“I thought we knew we could run the ball on them,” Brinlee said. “The O-line has played great all season. We were just confident in what we could do.”
O’Toole finished 14-of-23 passing for 182 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Davis had six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Rogers had a team-high 87 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Caleb Bednarz led the Tigers with 14 tackles.
Lake Zurich quarterback Zach Till and running back John Mularz each rushed for a touchdown. JJ Raffelson had a team-high eight tackles.