Although the match-up was billed as the Class 5A Football State Quarterfinals, the Joliet Catholic Hilltoppers proved they were in a class all their own in Friday night’s 35-0 victory over Fenwick.
Led by All-State linebacker Chris Jesek, the Hilltoppers defense limited the Friars to 115 yards of total offense. Joliet Catholic’s ability to control the ball on offense, allowed them to wear down a Fenwick defense that had been allowing less than six points a game.
Offensively the Friars struggled from the get-go, unable to move the ball against a bigger and stronger defense. Pat Brady and Kendrick Crump, the Friars’ most consistent offensive threats all season, touched the ball three times in the first half and combined to gain zero yards.
Early in the contest, the Friars defense looked as though they might be up for the challenge presented by the defending State champs. In the first quarter, the Friars matched Joliet Catholic’s size and strength up front with toughness and grit. Defensive end Pat McCormack sacked Joliet Catholic quarterback John Kiernan, and 295-pound defensive tackle Wallace Johnson made sure the Hilltoppers earned every rushing yard up the middle. Joliet Catholic’s first drive ended in a punt, their second a failed 38-yard field-goal attempt. The score stood tied at zero at the end of the first quarter.
After stalling in the first quarter, the Hilltoppers showed their championship swagger by making the big plays that are required to win big games. Joe Benson’s 28-yard run on third and 22 from the Fenwick 31-yard line demonstrated that the Hilltoppers would not be deterred by their early offensive struggles. Three plays later, running back Chris Clancy’s 3-yard run put the game’s first points on the board. The Hilltoppers led 7-0 following a successful PAT.
The Hilltoppers would once again come up big on their next possession. Kiernan’s 18-yard pass to Bill McKeon, on fourth-and-four, setup Joliet Catholic’s second touchdown. The Friars found themselves in a 14-point hole at the half.
The second half brought on more of the same for the Fenwick offense. Quarterback Brien Rooney threw an interception on the first possession of the second half, putting Joliet Catholic in prime scoring position. A 12-yard run by Chris Clancy gave Joliet Catholic a 20-0 lead.
Following Clancy’s touchdown, Fenwick’s defense managed to hold the Hilltoppers scoreless for the remainder of the third quarter. However, the offense was unable to move the ball against the state’s top team. The score stood at 20-0 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter saw Joliet Catholic’s 20-point lead grow into a 35-point rout. The Hilltoppers scored on two of their three fourth-quarter possessions, all of which began inside of Fenwick’s 35 yard-line.
In the end, the Hilltoppers trio of dynamic running backs, Clancy, McKeon, and Benson, rushed for more then 250 yards and scored all five touchdowns. Conversely, the Friars managed just five first downs the entire game.
Despite the result, Fenwick head coach Joe DiCanio was pleased with his team’s effort. “Defense played great; they are the number one team in the state. We get to play next week,” said DiCanio. “We know where we stand now; we know what we need to do to get better. We should be proud of the way we played today.”
With the loss, Fenwick is eliminated from the State playoffs. However, the Friars live to play another day, in the Prep Bowl playoffs. A win next Friday, against Brother Rice, would put the Friars in the Prep Bowl at Soldier Field on Nov. 26th.