8-6 at halftime, The 3A title game between Stillman Valley and Carthage Illini West was played mostly between the 30 yard lines. The phrase "3 yards and a cloud of dust," was more than appropriate for this one. Both teams utilize a wing-T offense and rarely pass.
Illini West outgained Stillman Valley by almost 100 yards on the ground (295 to 196), but the two went at each other all night on the ground. Hard hits and defensive stands characterized the first three quarters for both teams, who only surrendered a combined 22 points in the first three quarters.
One play that isn't reflected in the yardage and makes up the 100-yard difference was a state final record setting 98-yard kickoff return by Stillman Valley's Nate Bond, who made numerous clutch plays for the Cardinals. Stillman Valley's Adam Bond led the way for the Cardinals rushing attack with 134 yards on 19 attempts scoring once on a 68-yard dash in the middle of the second quarter.
Illini West spread the running load between three backs, Drake Schmudlach, Ser Whitaker, and Kyle Huss with 18, 20, and 19 touches respectively. Schmudlach was the most productive with 133 yards and a touchdown while Whitaker was close behind with 105 yards and a touchdown.
Ser Whitaker's biggest play wasn't on offense, but rather down the stretch when he intercepted Stillman Valley on their final drive at the Illini West 20 with only 20 seconds left on the clock. An emotional game for both sides and a game that was truly fought until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Illini West coach Lyle Klein talked about a tough Stillman Valley team. "They're a quality opponent. They're champions and they play like it. Bond is an outstanding athlete."
Ser Whitaker also discussed his game-sealing interception. "I just saw the QB take a one-step drop for a quick pass. It was an out route and I stepped into it and got it. I knew I had to step up for my team, and we all just stepped up."
In 4A action, the game again was even throughout the first half. The first strike was from Rochester Junior quarterback Wes Lunt, who hit running back Colten Glazebrook on a screen pass that went for 23 yards for a score. Answering back in the early 2nd quarter, Alleman's Kevin Wetherell knocked it in from 3 yards out to even the game at 7 all.
A late first half field goal by Rochester kicker John Perry put the Rockets up 10-7 for the rest of the half despite a late interception by Alleman's Michael Peters and an ensuing drive that took the pioneers close to the Rochester red zone.
The second half featured an early touchdown by Glazebrook, which was set up two plays prior by his 52 yard screen pass from Lunt.
The Rockets would add one more score on another duo of Glazebrook runs. The first covered a majority of the yardage in one fell swoop of 62 yards. The following run found paydirt as he easily got in from 11 yards. Glazebrook finished the day with 208 yards rushing on 31 attempts for 2 touchdowns and had 4 receptions for 89 yards and a score.
Rochester quarterback Wes Lunt finished 19-36 for 213 yards and the lone TD pass to Glazebrook. Lunt came into the game with over 3000 yards passing, but this game was all about the Rockets' senior back Colten Glazebrook.
Rock Island Alleman was outgained 414 to 119 but scored on a Kevin Wetherell run in the early second quarter capping a 12 play, 65 yard drive. Alleman quarterback Tim Boland passed for 57 yards, and running back Max Mendoza accounted for 36 yards.
Alleman Coach Dave DeJaegher talked about the Rochester attack. "We went in hoping to make them one dimensional. There are a lot of teams that run it but it's hard to execute it. For us, we tried some reads and some traps, but we're not extremely big up front. They won the battle at the line of scrimmage, and when we threw we had a hard time keeping them off of us."
Derek Leonard, a second-generation state-champion coach now, discussed his team's win. "Our safeties were able to come up and get to the pitch guy on the option. Our offense gets a lot of credit, but defensively we've been really good too. You have to either take away Colten or take away the pass. We have so many weapons. The O-Line is one of the best I've ever had."
Glazewood, Iowa-bound Riley McMinn, and much of the offensive line are seniors. For them, a state championship came as a crowning moment on four years of hard work. For Juniors like Lunt, it's a challenge to come back and defend their crown next year.
Great football by all four teams and likely not the last time they'll make it to Champaign.