For the fourth time in school history, the Fenwick High School football team has made the IHSA state semifinals. The Friars will host Sycamore on Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. at Triton College in a Class 5A matchup.
Fenwick is looking to advance to a state championship game for the first time. In each of their three previous semifinal appearances, the Friars lost in heartbreaking fashion.
The 1981 team, coached by Don Sebestyen, fell 7-6 to Brother Rice in a Class 6A semifinal. In a 1995 Class 5A semifinal, coach Paul Connor’s team lost 24-21 in overtime on a field goal following a 10-play Fenwick overtime series that ended without points on an interception after an apparent Friar touchdown had been called back on a penalty.
And of course, who can forget about the Travesty at Triton in 2016? In a Class 7A semifinal, Fenwick was about to defeat visiting Plainfield North. Coach Gene Nudo directed quarterback Jacob Keller to throw deep on fourth down, knowing the clock would run out. Keller followed the instructions, but the officials threw a flag and called the Friars for intentional grounding.
Time had run out and a games can end on an offensive penalty per rule, but the officials gave Plainfield North an untimed down, allowing the Tigers to kick a game-tying field goal and send the contest into overtime. After Fenwick running back Conner Lillig scored a touchdown to start the extra period, Plainfield North running back Dillon McCarthy followed with a touchdown run of his own, then added a two-point conversion run to hand the Friars an improbable and bitter 18-17 defeat.
To make matters worse, the IHSA later admitted the officials got the call wrong. But, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson added the following statement, one that rankled Fenwick, which sued the IHSA in an unsuccessful effort to reverse the outcome. Of the three semifinal losses, the Travesty was by far the most painful.
The current Friars look to make history and avenge the previous semifinalists, and they have an excellent chance of doing so.
Fenwick (10-2) showed mettle Nov. 13 in the state quarterfinals at Nazareth Academy. Trailing 10-0 in a place where the Roadrunners have rarely lost, the Friars kept their composure and rallied for a 28-17 victory.
Fenwick defensive lineman Suleiman Abuaqel had the play of the game — and perhaps the season — when on the first play of the fourth quarter, he intercepted a screen pass and took it all the way for a 58-yard touchdown that was a backbreaker for Nazareth.
I think it’s time for a school that has had legendary football players and coaches such as Johnny Lattner, Tony Lawless and Marques Sullivan to finally make it downstate. This is the team that will get the job done.
Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be easy game Saturday. Sycamore (9-3) has a physical defense that has posted back-to-back playoff shutouts. The Spartans, making their fifth state semifinals appearance, are also hungry to get to their first championship game.
But there are two important factors that will be the difference Saturday. Yes, the Sycamore defense is very good, but I’m thinking the Spartans haven’t faced an offense as diverse and explosive as Fenwick’s.
You want to try and take away the Friars’ potent passing game featuring wide receivers Bryan Hunt, Eian Pugh and Max Reese? Running backs Danny Kent and Jacque Walls are more than happy to pick up the slack. And quarterback Kaden Cobb does plenty of damage with his legs as well as his arm.
Moreover, the game will be at Triton, where Fenwick especially thrives. The boost Friar Nation provides the team is immeasurable.
“They’re the best fan base in the state,” Cobb said. “They always come out and do what they do to get us pumped.”
Saturday should be a close one, but in the end, the Friars will make history and punch their tickets to the 5A state final.
Tate’s Take: Fenwick 31, Sycamore 21.