Add a couple more national titles to the Naperville Patriots mantle.
The youth football program recently won its fifth and sixth titles in nine years. The Junior Pee Wee team coached by Jim Olita and the Under-14/Eighth-Grade Unlimited team coached by Doug DiFusco won titles at the United Youth Football National Championships last month in Plant City, Fla.
The Junior Pee Wee team won its first national title in thrilling fashion. In the quarterfinals, the Patriots went into overtime to defeat the Jamaica (N.Y.) Bulldogs. Then, in a rematch against the defending Cadet national champs, the GC Cowboys from Buffalo, the Patriots dominated the semifinal game 45-13, scoring on every possession, with quarterback Quentin Pringle scoring four touchdowns.
In the championship, Olita's Patriot defense rose to the occasion, shutting out Florida's Bustletown Bengals 13-0.
The Eighth-Grade Unlimited team went to nationals as the team to beat. Its title-winning team from last year sent four kids on to high school who contributed to varsity teams as freshmen.
"The team headed to Florida as focused as I have ever seen one of my teams, with the one goal of winning back-to-back national championships," said DiFusco, who won his fifth national title in the last six years.
"There were a tremendous amount of expectations and pressure on this team that they embraced and lived up to it."
The Patriots first squared off against the Staten Island Hurricanes, a team with four national titles of its own. The Patriots jumped out to a commanding 22-0 lead en route to a 36-18 win. Naperville quarterback Jack Bastable threw for three touchdowns, including a 55-yarder on a screen to Jack Weller. Weller also had a rushing touchdown, set up by his reception on a 40-yard screen pass. The Patriots' scoring started with a 6-yard touchdown run by Owen Piche.
In the finals the Patriots faced the Hamilton Tigers from Maryland, a much bigger team with an oversized offensive line. But the Patriots defense and defensive coordinator Bob McMillen, also the head coach of the Chicago Rush, were up to the task and shut out Hamilton for a half on the way to a 32-13 win.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots' fast-break offense got going, taking a drive 45 yards in five plays, capped by Victorio Tricase's 17-yard scoring burst. On the next drive, the Patriots went 66 yards in five plays, highlighted by a 26-yard reverse to Ivory Kelly-Martin and a 24-yard Tricase run to go ahead 16-0 at half.
Tricase made it 24-0 right out of halftime, ripping off a 65-yard touchdown run off right tackle for the commanding lead. The Patriots' defense, with middle linebacker Greg McClellan making the calls on the field, preserved the lead.
Other big contributors were defensive linemen Dan Dominiak, Devontee Dunn and cornerback Quaid Gill, and offensive linemen Jake Zeiler, Ahmed Greaves and Tom Ciesla.
"You win championships with defense, and the defense was great all year," DiFusco said. "We as a staff are extremely proud of how convincingly this team dominated opponents week in and week out."