LOMBARD – To win four state titles in a row and be on track to for a fifth, some luck is required to go along with the necessary talent and skill.
In Saturday’s quarterfinal against Joliet Catholic, Montini’s Stephen Dennis was the beneficiary of an unusual, maybe even lucky, play to help the Broncos’ push for a fifth straight state title remain intact.
Dennis caught a 29-yard touchdown pass that quarterback Alex Wills threw over three Joliet Catholic defenders that seemed to have a good shot to intercept the pass. Somehow the tipped pass not only evaded the defenders, but it also managed to fall into Dennis’ waiting arms. The Broncos took the decisive lead when Nile Sykes ran in the ensuing two-point conversion.
“It got tipped right away and I thought it was about to be picked off so I came back to the ball,” Dennis said. “The next thing I know it’s in my hands.”
Montini escaped with a 22-21 win against the Hilltoppers and now host Sycamore in a semifinal tomorrow.
“We got lucky, but we work on those things so we make our own breaks sometimes with those plays,” Montini coach Chris Andriano said. “Hard to believe it happened that way, but it was great to see our guys come through.”
Once the Broncos scored the touchdown with 4:11 to go, Andriano decided his team had enough momentum to go for two. As if the decision to go for it wasn’t enough drama, the Broncos’ coaching staff decided to hand the ball off to Sykes, a linebacker who had a touchdown earlier in the game but previously hadn’t had a carry since Week 1.
“Whenever my team needs me to step up, I like stepping up and making those big plays,” Sykes said. “They needed me to get a big sack, and I got the big sack. They needed me to score a two-point conversion and a touchdown, and that’s what I went in there to do.”
The Broncos’ attention now shifts to Sycamore. Saturday’s semifinal will be the fifth postseason meeting since 2007 between the two teams. After beating Marian Catholic for the fifth year in a row in the second round and topping the Hilltoppers for the fourth time in five years, facing Sycamore again will be nothing new.
Last year’s meeting between the two teams was one to remember. The Spartans drove down the field and scored a go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion with 31 seconds left to take a 22-21 lead. Montini won it on a 34-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
Montini 22, Joliet Catholic 21
Passing: Alex Wills 17-for-28, 206 yards, 2 TDs
Rushing: Wills 6-22; Prince Walker 1-16; Niko Italia 4-15; Nile Sykes 1-8, TD
Receiving: Leon Thornton 2-55; Tyler Tumpane 4-40, TD
Up next: Sycamore at Montini
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: 19W070 16th St., Lombard
Records: No. 1 Montini 12-0; No. 2 Sycamore 12-0
Outlook: Sycamore hasn't forgotten last year's 24-22 thriller in the second round of the playoffs, but facing a team that is itching for revenge is nothing new for Montini. The Spartans feature Iowa recruit Ben Niemann, whose 6-foot-3 frame makes him a tough match up at wide receiver, and quarterback Devin Mottet, who is a physical dual-threat.