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Elmhurst IC Catholic upends Williamsville for Class 3A football state championship

Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register

CHAMPAIGN — The Elmhurst IC Catholic coach said his game plan before the Class 3A state championship game against Williamsville on Friday was to force the Bullets’ offense “nickel-and-dime" his team.  

IC Catholic’s offense did anything but to Williamsville’s defense.  

Elmhurst IC Catholic averaged 46 yards on its seven touchdown plays in a 48-17 win over Williamsville at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus. The Knights (13-1) bounced back from a 10-0 second-quarter deficit to outscore the Bullets 48-7 over the final 33 minutes, 29 seconds.  

IC Catholic's Joey Gliatta (33) upends Williamsville's Jackson Workman in the first half of their Class 3A football state title game Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Champaign.

Williamsville’s defense forced IC Catholic to quickly punt on both of its first-quarter possessions. After Jake Seman found Jackson Workman for a 16-yard touchdown pass early in the second to give Williamsville a 10-0 lead, the Knights needed a spark.  

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On third-and-10 from its own 35, IC Catholic quarterback Dennis Mandala found K.J. Parker for a 65-yard score. On the Bullets’ next drive, J.P. Schmidt intercepted Seman.  

Williamsville's Nolan Bates (1) intercepts a pass intended for IC Catholic's Amir Sanders in the first half of their Class 3A football state title game Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Champaign.

“I really felt we handled the football game for the first quarter and a half,” Williamsville coach Aaron Kunz said. “Even when they hit that long pass, that was just a great play by them that we should’ve defended better to make it much harder. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen again.”  

Late in the half, the Knights’ leading rusher Denzell Gibson took the ball 51 yards on just his third touch to give IC Catholic the lead for good. He finished with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. 

“I trust all our running backs. All three of those kids have run their butt off all season long,” IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft said when asked why Gibson didn’t get the start.  

“Every other game, it’s hard to decide who is running hardest because of how hard all three are running. Denzell just felt different today: he’s that kind of player, he’s always done that throughout his career. I think he’s one of the most explosive players on the field and once he got in rhythm, we just had to stick with him.” 

In the second half, the now fully-reinvigorated Knights went to work to run up its lead with four third-quarter TDs of 34, 25, 16 and 74 yards. In the quarter alone, Mandala was 5-for-6 with 134 yards and three touchdowns.  

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Williamsville (12-2) outgained IC Catholic 105-3 in offensive yards in the first quarter. The Knights had 491 yards the rest of the way.  

Williamsville's Colvin Fleck, top, and Jackson Workman celebrate Workman's touchdown against IC Catholic in the first half of their Class 3A football state title game Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Champaign.

“I think the first half, we were able to get in our heavy set some and get some first downs, get some runs going,” Kunz said. “We tried to do that in the second half and it didn’t go. When you’re in a game like this, it's almost like you feel like, once they got scoring, we’ve got to score on each possession and it’s almost like the pressure hits you more.  

“Momentum is so big. They came out and scored that first touchdown of the (second) half and I felt that was so big. After that one, I felt we were pressing a little bit.” 

Williamsville’s offense was stymied in three of the five playoff rounds. The Bullets pulled out an 18-16 win over Eureka in the second round and survived Tolono Unity 12-7 in the semifinals.  

“It’s pretty frustrating because usually, we score all the time,” Williamsville’s Jackson Workman said. “The last few weeks, it’s been kind of tough.” 

IC Catholic’s J.P. Schmidt picked off Seman twice and then caught a 74-yard pass from Mandala with 2:44 left in the third. 

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“We know how explosive our offense is; it was just a matter of time,” Schmidt said. “It’s our job (on defense) to make plays and get the ball in the offense’s hands.” 

It was IC Catholic’s sixth state title and fourth since 2016. Williamsville has two runner-up trophies to go with its 2019 Class 3A state championship.  

Contact Ryan Mahan: 217-971-3867, ryan.mahan@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR. 

Below are updates from the championship game:

6:50 p.m. — FINAL: IC Catholic 48, Williamsville 17

Elmhurst IC Catholic is the Class 3A state champion with a victory against Williamsville.

6:34 p.m. — Williamsville scores for first time since second quarter

Williamsville's Harley Sharp catches a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jake Seman. IC Catholic leads 48-17.

6:19 p.m. — We make the turn for home

IC Catholic leads Williamsville 41-10 after outscoring the Bullets 28-0 in the period.

5:56 p.m. — IC Catholic scores second TD of 3Q

Dennis Mandala with his second passing touchdown of the game goes to Eric Karner as IC Catholic leads Williamsville 27-10. 6:25 left 3Q.

5:51 p.m. — Williamsville punts

IC Catholic takes over at own 49 with 8:51 left 3Q.

5:47 p.m. — IC takes 2-score lead

IC Catholic's Denzell Gibson runs 34 yards for a touchdown. IC Catholic leads Williamsville 20-10 with 10:25 left 3Q.

5:24 p.m. — Halftime

Elmhurst IC Catholic leads Williamsville 13-10 in the Class 3A state championship game. The Knights get the ball to begin the second half.

5:15 p.m. — Williamsville trails for first time

IC Catholic takes a 13-10 lead on a 51-yard touchdown run from Denzell Gibson. IC Catholic's extra-point try has a bad snap so no kick attempt.

5:01 p.m. — IC intercepts Seman for a second time

Williamsville QB Jake Seman is intercepted for a second time today. IC Catholic takes over on own 38. Two quick incomplete passes has Knights facing third-and-10.

4:55 p.m. — IC Catholic is on the board

9:29 left 2Q: IC Catholic gets its first first down, first big pickup and first touchdown all in one as QB Dennis Mandala finds K.J. Parker for a 65-yard TD pass. Williamsville's lead is now 10-7. It won't be a shutout after all.

4:49 p.m. — Williamsville scores first TD, expands lead

Williamsville quarterback Jake Seman hits Jackson Workman for a 16-yard touchdown. David Jenkins PAT is good and Williamsville leads IC Catholic 10-0 with 10:15 left in half.

4:42 p.m. — End of first quarter, Williamsville leads

Williamsville leads 3-0 after one quarter. Bullets face fourth-and-one from the IC Catholic 33 following a 10-yard pass from Jake Seman to Ethan Hinds.

4:35 p.m. — First score, Williamsville leads

David Jenkins kicks a 23-yard field goal and Williamsville leads IC Catholic 3-0 with 2:22 left in first quarter.

4:23 p.m. — First TV timeout

Williamsville begins second possession from own 35. The Bullets' first drive ended with an interception but the Williamsville forced IC Catholic to punt.

4:14 p.m. — Kickoff

Williamsville won the coin toss, received and is defending the north end zone. Williamsville begins at own 33.

3:51 p.m. — Class 3A title game about to begin

Williamsville takes the north end of the field in their purple shirts, purple pants, purple helmets with white numbers. These numbers are much easier to read than when Williamsville had those purple numbers on purple jerseys outlined in white or yellow.

IC Catholic is in white shirts, white pants and navy blue helmets. We've got less than 15 minutes of warm-ups left.

Brad Stearns, the Central State Eight Conference’s assignor of officials for football, is in the press box. Also spotted was former Ursuline head coach and current assistant Dale Sprague, who said of the Bulldogs' 28-21 win in the Class 2A state championship over Downs Tri-Valley: "I'm glad I got that pacemaker put in."