FOOTBALL

'Special group': Sacred Heart-Griffin wins its sixth IHSA football state championship

Bill Welt
State Journal-Register

CHAMPAIGN — Sacred Heart-Griffin coach Ken Leonard could savor the final 12 minutes with more ease.   

The No. 2-seeded Cyclones (14-0) led 38-14 by the end of the third quarter en route to their sixth state title in school history — all under Leonard’s watch — with a 44-20 victory over No. 13 New Lenox Providence Catholic (9-5) at Memorial Stadium on Friday.   

“It feels different because it's the last one and it feels kind of like the first one,” Leonard said. "Where does this team rank? Well, this team ranks right up there because they're state champs. They're right up with the best.” 

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SHG initially stalled on its first two possessions for minus-4 yards. Senior running back Richard Jackson then abruptly reeled off an 84-yard run and scored on the next carry for the opening score.  

Its heralded offense hardly sputtered from that point onward. 

Sacred Heart-Griffin players celebrate their Class 4A state title after defeating Providence Catholic 44-20 on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Champaign.

“I was telling everyone else if you do your job, everything will open up and we're going to make plays,” Jackson said. “Coach always tells us how big-time players make big-time plays, and I felt like the whole offense played a big role in that. I want to give all of credit to the line for that and my receivers blocking.” 

Senior defensive back DeAndre Stewart’s interception set up senior quarterback Ty Lott’s 54-yard touchdown screen pass to senior running back Bill Sanders for a 21-7 advantage with 6:36 left in the first half before the Celtics pared that down to one possession by halftime.  

“When the ball was coming out, I just had to go get it,” Stewart said. 

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Lott threw his second TD pass to senior Madixx Morris for a 28-14 lead with 5:14 remaining in the third and Providence Catholic’s ensuing failed fake punt attempt proved to be a dagger.   

Sanders punched in a 1-yard TD run and senior kicker Mason Grove blasted a 47-yard field goal through the uprights following senior Jveon Bardwell’s INT for a comfortable 24-point cushion heading into the last stanza.   

Sacred Heart-Griffin's Bill Sanders bolts down the sideline for a long gain against Providence Catholic in the second half of the Class 4A football state title game Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Champaign. Sanders scored on the next play.

Lott finished 12-of-26 for 214 passing yards and three scores. Morris had three catches for 75 yards and one score, while senior teammate Jake Hamilton had four for 46 yards and a score. 

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Jackson ran for 112 yards and one TD, while Sanders provided 100 rushing yards and two scores in addition to his TD catch.  

“I can personally say I feel like we're the best running backs in the state,” Sanders said of Jackson. “That's my twin. We might fight and bicker but at the end of the day, he's still my brother. I wouldn't have it no other way.” 

Senior linebacker Cory West powered the defense with 12 tackles, followed by Jackson and Hudson McMann with nine apiece.  

Leonard, the IHSA’s all-time winningest coach with a 419-81 record over 43 total seasons, exits as a winner after the team settled for second place against Joliet Catholic Academy last season.   

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SHG returned virtually most of its key contributors from that runner-up finish and prevailed in Leonard’s 500th game as a coach. He retired at the final horn.

“It's a special group,” Leonard said. “We knew how explosive and how good this group is. We also did it for the 2021 spring team (that finished 6-0) because that group was really special too, and these guys were part of that and we had some dudes on that team and they taught these guys a lot.” 

The path back to the state finals was anything but easy.   

SHG trailed both Waterloo 16-7 in the second round and Rochester 42-28 in the semifinals after three periods before staging exhilarating comebacks.   

“I think I was definitely more comfortable this year,” Lott said of this year's state title appearance. “I was more nervous last year. I have my teammates just picking me up making sure I wasn't nervous. Once we got that first touchdown, I just felt we kept up the momentum.” 

Providence Catholic senior QB Lucas Proudfoot went 14-of-36 for 208 passing yards and one TD with two INTs. Charlie Soltys had six catches for 136 yards.  

Jamari Tribett and Mason Santiago ran for 42 and 40 yards, respectively. 

“We knew we would get the ball at half and told the guys 24 minutes of my season, 24 more minutes with the guys, all of the work we put in,” Proudfoot said of going into the locker room at the break. “We thought we'd go out there and punch them in the mouth in the second half scoring. It just didn't happen.” 

Contact Bill Welt: (217) 788-1545,bill.welt@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/BillWelt 

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10:26 p.m. — Ken Leonard goes out a winner

Final. SHG 44, Providence Catholic 20. Coach Ken Leonard, the IHSA's all-time winningest coach, finishes his 43rd season with a 419-81 record and six state titles.

9:56 p.m. — Proudfoot sneaks for TD

Providence Catholic QB Lucas Proudfoot scores on sneak. 7:23 4Q | SHG 44, Providence Catholic 20

9:47 p.m. — SHG pulls away with another TD

SHG's Bill Sanders scores 15-yard TD run. 10:12 4Q | SHG 44, Providence Catholic 14

9:39 p.m. — End of third quarter

End of 3Q | SHG 38, Providence Catholic 14

9:34 p.m. — Kicker pads SHG lead

Mason Grove drills 47-yard field goal after an interception. 1:35 3Q | SHG 38, Providence Catholic 14

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9:24 p.m. — Cyclones build three-possession cushion

SHG's Bill Sanders scores 1-yard TD run following failed fake punt attempt. 3:02 3Q | SHG 35, Providence Catholic 14

9:15 p.m. — SHG extends lead

SHG QB Ty Lott throws 18-yard TD pass to Madixx Morris behind the secondary. 5:14 3Q | SHG 28, Providence Catholic 14

8:36 p.m. — Halftime

41-yard field goal attempt by Providence Catholic's Sean Sample no good. Half | SHG 21, Providence Catholic 14

8:23 p.m. — Celtics trim deficit to one possession

Providence Catholic's Kaden Nickel scores 3-yard TD run. 2:20 2Q | SHG 21, Providence Catholic 14

8:10 p.m. — Ty Lott throws second TD pass

SHG QB Ty Lott throws 54-yard TD pass on screen to Bill Sanders. 6:36 2Q | SHG 21, Providence Catholic 7

7:59 p.m. — SHG reclaims lead with TD pass

SHG QB Ty Lott throws 28-yard TD pass to Jake Hamilton left wide open. 10:49 2Q | SHG 14, Providence Catholic 7

7:54 p.m. — Celtics answer to even match

Providence Catholic QB Lucas Proudfoot throws 4-yard TD pass to Anthony Picciolini. 11:58 2Q | SHG 7, Providence Catholic 7

7:50 p.m. — End of 1st quarter

End of 1Q | SHG 7, Providence Catholic 0

7:38 p.m. — SHG scores first TD

Richard Jackson scores 4-yard TD run following a burst of 84 yards from team's own 12-yard line. 5:38 left in 1Q | SHG 7, Providence Catholic 0

7:21 p.m. — SHG receives opening kickoff