West Chicago becomes eligible for playoffs with victory against Larkin
West Chicago's two-decade playoff drought most likely ended Friday night.
Behind 5 touchdowns by Vincent Muci and a gritty defense, the Wildcats won their fifth game by beating Larkin 35-19 in Upstate Eight Conference action in West Chicago.
With 36 playoff points coming in, the Wildcats (5-4, 5-4), who haven't been to the postseason since 2002, figure to be in good shape when the pairings are announced Saturday night.
West Chicago broke the game open with 3 fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Leading 28-19 after Erick Myrick's 96-yard kickoff kept Larkin close, the Wildcats got the ball with just over nine minutes left. In a drive that epitomized their season, the Wildcats moved 65 yards in 13 plays, all on the ground, burning all but 1:17 of the clock. All but 1, including the last 9, were runs by Muci. On third and goal from the 17, on his 42nd carry of the night, the senior tailback broke three tackles to go in for the clinching score.
Muci also scored on runs of 5, 2, and 3 yards and took a blocked punt to the end zone to open the scoring. He finished with 183 yards.
Before that last drive, Muci had just one thought: "Carry the rock. We've got to score. If we get it right here, we end it, it's over."
Fans ran onto the field and celebrated with the players after the final buzzer.
"It's just amazing," Muci said. "Just having this opportunity after coming from a losing program, just turning it up these last few years, it's been great."
The turnaround from last year's 1-8 record started with some soul-searching among coaches last November.
"After what we went through last year we sat together as coaches and said, 'What do we need to change?,'" said West Chicago coach Adam Chavez. "We said, we're not going to win by beating anybody with athleticism, with speed. We're going to beat people with toughness and physicality. That started in the weight room, getting the kids in the weight room. Doing whatever we can, just getting that mentality of being tough and being physical. It started after Thanksgiving of last year."
The Wildcats got an early lift from their special teams, blocking a Larkin punt on the game's first possession. Muci scooped in and returned it for the score. After a defensive stop, Muci put West Chicago up 14-0 with his first rushing touchdown.
But the Royals battled back with touchdowns by Jalen Miller on runs of 14 and 1 yards. The Wildcats blocked the second extra point to lead 14-13 and that was the difference in the game until the fourth quarter.
Muci and the Wildcats scored twice in less than two minutes thanks to an interception by Tommy Doyle that he returned to the 3-yard line, setting up a 1-play scoring drive.
Myrick took the ensuing kickoff all the way to keep things interesting, setting up the Wildcats' final drive.