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A year after frustration, Benet football rebounds with semifinal berth

Benet football players carry senior wide receiver Joe Batina on the sideline moments after their last-second victory Saturday at Downers Grove North. Staff photo by Matthew Piechalak
Benet football players carry senior wide receiver Joe Batina on the sideline moments after their last-second victory Saturday at Downers Grove North. Staff photo by Matthew Piechalak

There’s not much you can get done in three seconds — 3.4 to be exact.

Winning a football game is one of them.

With just over three seconds on the game clock and Benet’s football team facing second and goal from the Downers Grove North 5-yard line, Jack Beneventi hit Jack Toner in the back of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. The Redwings’ 26-24 win over the Trojans Saturday moves them on to the Class 7A semifinals for the first time in nearly three decades.

“Jack Toner made a great play,” Beneventi said. “I thought I threw the ball a little high, and for a second my heart dropped, but he got his arm all the way out there, got his feet in and made the catch. It was an amazing catch.”

Moments earlier, the Redwings (11-1) saw another amazing catch go in their favor. Toner was targeted by Beneventi, and when the ball tipped out of his hands it went to Joe Batina for a 25-yard gain. Just before his game-winning touchdown, Toner hauled in a 13-yard pass on fourth-and-5 that brought the ball to the Trojans’ 5-yard line.

“It was great for our team to move on,” Toner said of his game-winning catch. “It’s great not to have the season end.”

Considering the Redwings finished 1-8 last fall, the turnaround to an 8-1 regular season and a semifinal berth is nothing if not astonishing.

So how did they do it?

“After the year last year, we got together and had a meeting, we set out some goals, and we decided we were going to work as hard as we could in the offseason to get bigger, faster and stronger, and smarter on the field,” Toner said. “Everyone committed, and clearly it’s worked out so far.”

“Coming off a 1-8 season, the current seniors related to us how that felt,” Beneventi said. “This is their last season and they just wanted to make sure everyone worked hard and everyone was on the same page. I think the leaders on our team really helped us.”

While the Redwings are new to deep playoff runs, Lincoln-Way East is used to them. After winning a state title in 2005, the Griffins made the semifinals and then the quarterfinals, and they have made it past the first round every year since 2008.

Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Tommy Fuessel is a dynamic playmaker for East, but he isn’t the only one. Fuessel ran for 263 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 40-10 thrashing of Edwardsville, but Nick Colangelo (56 yards rushing, touchdown) is also a threat.

Kyle Langenderfer (three sacks vs. Edwardsville) and Sean Doherty (interception return for touchdown) fuel a Griffins defense that has allowed just 125 points this season. Only two teams have scored 20 or more points against East this season.

It won’t be easy for Benet on Saturday, but it can reflect on wins over Marist and Joliet Catholic at the end of the regular season as signature victories over elite programs. The Redwings can also draw on a long offseason of hard work that got them to this point, and the momentum that helped lead them past the Trojans.

“We’re excited,” Beneventi said.

Lincoln-Way East at Benet
Class 7A semifinals
WHEN 6 p.m. Saturday
WHERE Benedictine University, 5700 College Road, Lisle
RECORDS No. 1 LWE (12-0), No. 2 Benet (11-1)

Years since Benet football was last in the semifinals. The Redwings finished second in the state that season.

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