Over the years, Fenwick High School has had plenty of football success, with legendary coaches and players such as Johnny Lattner and Tony Lawless leading the way. But entering this season, the Friars had yet to win an IHSA state championship.
But, the senior-led Friars were finally able to achieve that goal on Nov. 27, defeating Kankakee 34-15 for the IHSA Class 5A title.
“It’s unbelievable,” said senior center Jimmy Liston. “I’ve always had this goal of bringing a state title to Fenwick, and it’s so special we’re the first.”
“All that extra work we put in together over the summer has paid off,” added senior quarterback Kaden Cobb.
Fenwick (12-2) set the tone early with a 10-play, 80-yard drive ending with Cobb throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Hunt. Iain Ramage missed the extra point, leaving the Friars with a 6-0 lead at the 8:49 mark of the opening quarter.
“We knew we had to get on them fast; they’re a four-quarter team,” Cobb said. “We got everything rolling and they couldn’t catch up.”
Later in the first, Fenwick marched 60 yards in five plays, scoring on a 17-yard pass from Cobb to Max Reese. Cobb then connected with Hunt for the 2-point conversion and a 14-0 Friars’ lead.
“That was good play calling that helped me get open,” Reese said. “It got the game flowing.”
In the second quarter, Cobb found a wide-open Reese for a 67-yard score, and after a short Kankakee punt gifted Fenwick excellent field position, Danny Kent went in for a 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Friars a commanding 28-0 lead.
Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia thought it was imperative to get off to a good start that would put the team in control.
“It’s what we preach all the time,” he said. “The kids came out and executed.”
Kankakee (13-1) got on the board just before halftime when quarterback Tomele Staples (17-of-37 passing, 178 yards) found Karson King (6 receptions, 81 yards) for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Kays started the second half with a 14-play, 80-yard march capped by a 1-yard run by Nate Hill. Staples then threw to Maurice Burkes for a two-point conversion that cut Fenwick’s lead to 28-15 a little over four minutes into the third quarter.
However, the Friars responded with an 11-play drive that ended with Cobb scoring from one yard out. The two-point conversion failed, but Fenwick led 34-15.
On the ensuing drive, linebacker Conor Paris doused any hopes Kankakee had of a late rally when he picked off Staples at the Friars 42. Fenwick chewed up most of the remaining time with its ball-control ground attack and held the Kays on defense twice more.
“Once we were able to get [Kankakee] behind schedule, the defense had a lot of success,” Battaglia said. “We kept their quarterback inside the pocket; he can make a lot of things happen once outside. It was a great game plan by [defensive coordinator] coach [Titcus] Pettigrew.”
Cobb completed 11 passes in 18 attempts for 146 yards and three touchdowns and added 63 yards rushing on nine carries. Kent led the Fenwick rushing attack with 212 yards on 31 carries as the Friars finished with 310 total yards rushing.
Fenwick outgained Kankakee 456 to 227, limiting the Kays to 38 yards on the ground. The Friars sacked Staples seven times, including two apiece by Suleiman Abuaqel, Conor Paris and Conor Stetz.
Other Fenwick defensive standouts were safety Martin Paris, who had a team-high nine tackles, along with safety Harry Kenny and cornerback Jacque Walls, who each broke up two passes.
Abuaqel, Cobb, Hunt, Kent, Liston, Conor and Martin Paris, Reese and Walls are among 30 seniors the Friars will lose to graduation.
“These guys are the most talented high school players I’ve ever seen,” Liston said.