Palicki shines in Willowbrook win over Yorkville
A four-year varsity player, Arthur Palicki has grown exponentially during his time in a Willowbrook uniform.
And the Warriors quarterback is saving his best for last.
Adding to his already impressive senior campaign, Palicki tossed a trio of touchdown passes to lead Willowbrook to a 21-13 victory over Yorkville on Friday in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs in Villa Park.
The 6-foot-3 QB finished with 350 passing yards while also running for 91 yards on 23 attempts. That rushing output accounted for all of his team's yards on the ground as the Warriors (8-2) didn't have a single running back carry.
"This was a great team win," Palicki said. "A lot of guys made plays. We knew their D-line was physical but our O-line played the best I've ever seen them play. And our wide receivers have been phenomenal all year long."
Two of Palicki's TD throws went to Carter Ferguson, the first a 70-yarder that gave the home team the lead for good at 7-6 early in the second quarter and the other from 27 yards out on a fourth-and-goal play.
"It's really special," Ferguson said. "I've been playing with these guys for 10 years. I've grown up playing with these guys. I think it came down to how well our coaches prepared us for this game. It's incredible just how many hours they spend watching film. They prepared us so well for this game."
The other touchdown recipient was KJ Rhodes, who made history while hauling in a 70-yard score of his own late in the third quarter. Having already set the program record last week for most catches in a season, the junior finished with 11 receptions for 206 yards to set a new Willowbrook mark for receiving yards in a year.
"We came out strong," said Rhodes, who along with Ferguson rarely came off the field with both also playing safety on defense. "They scored first but it didn't matter. When we came out in the second half, we knew we were going to win.
"They were playing high-low (on the touchdown) and coach called a great play. I just went and got the ball and then went to score. My teammates had trust in me and I have trust in them."
Winners of six in a row, the 15th-seeded Warriors overcame 18 penalties and will play either No. 2-seed Rockton Hononegah or No. 31 seed Rockford Auburn in the second round. Willowbrook is playing in the postseason for the seventh consecutive season, a run that includes five appearances in the quarterfinals and one in the semis.
"Yorkville was a quarterfinal team a year ago," Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth said. "We saw them in 2019 (a 33-24 Willowbrook win in the second round), that was a battle. And they won their first conference championship in a while this year. Our guys have battled and persevered all year. We didn't finish some drives but we also made a few big plays. I'm just proud of how our guys battled and kept coming back.
"AJ has had a great year. He's grown so much. He's just efficient. He's been making great decisions. We got a win on his back."
The Foxes (6-4), in the playoffs for the fifth straight time, saw their winning streak snapped at four. After placing first in the Southwest Prairie West Conference, Yorkville got 84 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns from Luke Zook, the second TD pulling the visitors within eight with 9:03 left in the fourth. Josh Gettemy also ran for 77 yards on 14 attempts.
Quarterback Michael Dopart threw for 69 yards and looked like he might have connected with Dylan Malone for a 77-yard score with just over two minutes left, but Malone was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the 46-yard line. That final drive stalled at the 50.
"I've been with these guys since I was 8 years old," Dopart said. "We've been through thick and thin together. Obviously, this is not what we wanted to have happen but all good things come to an end. We put our heart and soul into this.
"(Winning) conference was a big thing for us. We worked so hard. I wouldn't trade anyone on this team. Just a great group of guys to be around and we have a lifetime of memories. I just wish we could play one more game."