IC Catholic Prep pounds Williamsville for 6th state championship
CHAMPAIGN - IC Catholic's JP Schmidt knew it was a matter of time.
After IC Catholic's offense struggled to move the ball in the first quarter, with both possessions ending in three-and-outs, the Knights linebacker was determined to give his team a helping hand.
Schmidt provided that with two first-half interceptions.
"It was important because we know how explosive our offense is," Schmidt said. "As a defense, it is our job to make big plays and get the ball into the offense's hands. That really was the thought process: just get the ball into the offense's hands. They'll get going soon enough."
The Knights did get going and never stopped.
Wide receiver KJ Parker scored on a 65-yard pass from quarterback Dennis Mandala for IC Catholic's first points. Running back Denzell Gibson then broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run with 1:34 left in the second quarter, and it was all Knights from there.
After trailing 10-0, IC Catholic went on to score 48 straight points and topped Williamsville 48-17 in the Class 3A state championship on Friday at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign. It was the Knights' sixth state title in program history, including their fourth since 2016.
The Knights won 3A state titles in 2016 and 2017 before winning the 4A title in 2018.
IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft said his team's second-half adjustments came directly from the players. The Knights scored 28 points in the third quarter to run away with the win.
"Our kids have been that way all year where their resilience just kind of takes over," Krefft said. "What they're talking about up here is real: their want to win for each other. I'd love to say we have a great halftime adjustment system. Everyone thinks we do. It's really just our kids. They get dialed into winning small pieces, and once they win small pieces, that momentum builds."
After taking the lead before halftime, IC Catholic then scored on its first possession of the third quarter, again on a Gibson run. This time, the 6-foot, 195-pound senior scored from 34 yards out for a 20-10 lead. Gibson finished with 138 yards on 10 carries (a 13.8 average).
Eric Karner (25-yard TD), Parker (16) and Schmidt (74) each had touchdown catches in the second half. Mandala (273 total yards, five touchdowns) added a 44-yard touchdown run for the Knights' final points.
Mandala also tied the 3A title game record with four touchdown passes. He finished 10-of-17 passing for 200 yards.
Williamsville scored on a 22-yard pass from quarterback Jake Seman to Harley Sharp with 6:30 left for its final touchdown.
Seman said the Bullets had a hard time containing the Knights in the second half.
"We ran into a big team, and it's hard to make plays whenever we don't execute the way we should," Seman said.
The Knights had to fight back after falling behind 10-0 to the Bullets (12-2), who started the scoring with a 23-yard field goal from David Jenkins with 2:22 left in the first quarter. Seman then hit Jackson Workman for a 16-yard TD with 10:15 to go in the second quarter.
Parker (four catches for 86 yards, two TDs) was trying to get his coach's attention before scoring the team's first touchdown, which seemed to rejuvenate the Knights.
"I was really determined," Parker said. "I was telling my offensive coordinator I want the shot, I want the ball in my hands. I know I have the ability to make a play when the team needs me the most. I know they have my back and I have their back. It was a great feeling."
Seman finished 23-of-40 passing for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two INTs for Williamsville. Ethan Hinds led the Bullets with 57 yards receiving on seven catches. Seman also led the team with 86 yards rushing on 21 carries.
Williamsville coach Aaron Kunz was proud of his team for making the most out of its season.
"I think football from Oct. 30 to the day after Thanksgiving is the greatest sporting event in anything," Kunz said. "It's better than the NFL playoffs, it's better than the college playoffs. What it does and how it brings communities together and these kids together, there's nothing better.
"For what our guys did to play just above average football in Weeks 8 and 9 and really turn it on and improve each week, it's been a special run."