Since August, the Montini football team has had one thing on its mind: the four-peat.
Now the Broncos are one win away from that goal.
Montini’s dramatic 40-37 semifinal win over Joliet Catholic set up a Class 5A final with Morris. The Broncos have won the 5A title the last three years and the importance of continuing that streak is not lost on the players or coach Chris Andriano.
“It’s very important,” Andriano said. “That was one of our team mottos this year, four-peat. Pretty simple. That was a goal that they’ve had from the very beginning. They say it after every practice since August.”
Joey Borsellino scored the winning touchdown in the final minute against Joliet Catholic to send Montini back to state. Borsellino is among a chunk of returning players that know the state experience, but that doesn’t make it less special.
"I'm so excited, I can't even explain how excited I am to go back down there," Borsellino said.
Borsellino is one of a number of weapons Montini has used in its playoff run. Mark Gorogianis starred in the quarterfinal win over Marian Central, Andrew Harte hit a game-winning field goal in the second round and Dimitri Taylor exploded for a big rushing game in Round 1.
One of those four could feature again or a new face could step up. The unpredictability has given the Broncos an edge this year.
“We don’t have to rely on just one or two guys,” Andriano said. “We love to be able to spread the ball around. It’s kind of tough on a defense to stop all of our players.”
Montini should be able to score points, but the Bronco defense will be tested against the tough, physical system Morris runs. The Redskins vary their formations, but primarily feature a T formation, which utilizes three running backs and no wide receivers. Andriano admitted it’s a system they haven’t seen before.
“These guys just line up and say here we come, stop us,” he said. “They’re a nice big, physical running football team so we’ll have to adjust defensively to stopping the run, bringing maybe an extra guy in the box. Hopefully we can control the line of scrimmage.”
Morris endured some dramatics of its own in the playoffs, beating Washington in overtime in the quarterfinals and coming from behind against Springfield Heart-Griffin in the semis. They feature two Division I recruits in tight end Danny Friend, committed to Indiana, and linebacker Jeff Perry, committed to Central Michigan.
If the Broncos pick up the win it will cap off the most grueling of the state titles in Montini’s streak.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to get this far, but we're fine with that because we're going downstate again going for a fourth title," Borsellino said. "To win four is going to be really hard, but coach A tells us every day that this has been our toughest road to state.”
Points per game Montini has scored in its four playoff games. The Broncos averaged just over 32 points per game in the regular season.
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Morris’ heavy run game will put an emphasis on tackling for the Montini defense. The junior linebacker, who leads the Broncos in tackles, will be at the heart of that.
Borsellino and Taylor both know the way to the football state finals. But on Saturday it was Taylor leading the way for Borsellino.
As Montini faced fourth-and-2 at the Joliet Catholic 17-yard line with 55 seconds left, the call from the sideline was 14 Follow. Taylor knew what he had to do.
“When we were walking out there D.T. (Dimitri Taylor), our running back, looked at me and said, ‘Follow me to state, Joe,’” Borsellino said. “And I was like, ‘We’re going to state, Dimitri. I’m going to follow you.’ I busted through the line and got the first down. It was a huge play we knew we were going to win after that.”
Two plays later, Borsellino followed an 11-yard Taylor run with a 1-yard touchdown plunge that gave the Broncos a 40-37 lead with 30.8 seconds left.
— Staff reporter Jason Rossi contributed to this report.