DeKALB – The Class 5A state title game matched up Montini’s defense, one of the best in the state, and Sacred Heart-Griffin’s offense, which set the state record for points in a season.
For all of the hype that surrounded that side of the ball, it was the Cyclones’ defense that made the difference on Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. SHG won 38-28 to end Montini’s bid for a fifth straight state title and a first undefeated season.
The Broncos (13-1) scored touchdowns on their first two offensive drives, but didn’t score an offensive touchdown again until the final minute of the game when the result was no longer in doubt.
“I think that their defense did a nice job of disguising some things,” Montini coach Chris Andriano said. “They got pressure on our quarterback. He was never in rhythm the whole day. He was off and you could see it a few times where we had some guys that were open that he didn’t hit.”
Alex Wills ran for a touchdown on the first drive and passed for one to Conner Costello on the second drive. However, once the Cyclones went ahead 31-21 with 1:15 left in the third quarter, Wills was just 4-for-19. The Broncos set a state championship game record with 60 pass attempts. Wills threw for 316 yards, but was 23-for-56 overall.
SHG got on the board with 45 seconds left in the first quarter on a 1-yard run by Anthony DiNello. Montini immediately answered with an 82-yard kickoff return by Derrick Curry. Curry’s score made it 21-7 and flipped the momentum back in Montini’s favor.
“Things looked good, but it’s four quarters,” Andriano said. “We would never concede and they were not going to do that either.”
The Cyclones cut the lead to 21-14 in the second quarter and held Montini scoreless in the quarter despite two Bronco trips to the red zone.
Eventually the Cyclones’ offense got going. They scored 31 unanswered points before Montini’s late consolation score led by Charles Norgle at quarterback.
“I think it’s definitely the most pressure I’ve seen all year,” Wills said. “Sacred Heart had a great defensive gameplan. They saw some of our weaknesses in our o-line. We tried to make adjustments, but they capitalized.”
The loss snapped a 20-game winning streak and a 24-game postseason winning streak. The Broncos gave up 268 yards on the ground and a season-high 38 points.
“We had a few chances today, we just couldn’t seem to get a hold of the game today for the first time in a long, long, long, long time,” Andriano said.
The Montini players were visibly disappointed after the loss, but Andriano spoke highly of the team’s accomplishments.
“I’m very proud of our team, obviously,” he said. “They’ve had a terrific career as seniors. We’re going to miss these guys. They’ve been class in every way, shape and form.”