A year ago, Lindenwood University’s “Candy Cane” striped field in Belleville was surrounded by more than 3,000 fans who witnessed one of the top local football playoff games in recent history.
It took a late touchdown run by Malik Easley and Edwyn Brown’s interception in the end zone to help the Althoff Crusaders finally nail down a wild 46-42 Class 4A quarterfinal win over five-time defending state champion Rochester.
The loss ended a 27-game playoff win streak by Rochester dating back to a 41-40 semifinal defeat against Metamora in 2009. Althoff overcame a 21-6 deficit and got 196 yards and three touchdowns on only 18 carries by running back Jaylon Bester.
A year later, the teams will be back on the same field with just as much at stake and plenty of memories remaining from their 2015 clash. Althoff (11-0) plays host to the Rochester Rockets (10-1) in a 7 p.m. 4A quarterfinal game Saturday at Lindenwood Stadium.
Both teams have lost only once since their 2015 playoff meeting.
Althoff was hammered 51-7 by Chicago Phillips in the 2015 Class 4A state title game while Rochester’s only defeat was 33-28 on Oct. 7 this season to Central State Eight Conference rival Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin.
Rochester is averaging 52.4 points per game while Althoff isn’t far behind at 49.3 per game.
Griffin’s coach, Ken Leonard, is the father of Rochester coach Derek Leonard. Each coach has guided his school to five state football titles.
Rochester’s Avante’ Cox had a monster day with 10 receptions in the 2015 playoff battle for 253 yards and three TDs. So did then-Althoff junior Jordan Goodwin, who had a career-high 11 catches for 111 yards.
Cox has 58 catches for 875 yards and 16 TDs this season for a Rochester team that has thrown for a whopping 3,066 yards and 42 touchdowns. The quarterbacks are junior Nic Baker (119-of-180, 1,968 yards 23 TDs, six interceptions) and senior Josh Grant (68-of-105, 1,084 yards, 19 TDs, two interceptions; 339 yards rushing, eight TDs).
Senior Collin Stallworth, a 6-foot-5 receiver, has 43 catches for 941 yards and 14 TDs.
The Rockets also have run for 2,129 yards and 37 TDs led by Alec Ostermeier’s 878 yards and 19 TDs.
Rochester hammered Mt. Zion 63-21 in its second-round playoff game Saturday and ran up more than 600 yards of offense on a defense that had six shutouts. Althoff blasted Taylorville 61-25, hanging 624 yards on the Tornadoes led by quarterback Trey Mosley’s 414 yards and five TDs.
The Rockets welcome back two key players from injuries last week in star receiver and defensive back D’Ante Cox and receiver Matt Wike.
Wike had been out since Week 6 with a dislocated elbow while D’Ante Cox had not played since Week 5 because of a broken arm.
Althoff state playoff/state tourney tickets
Althoff High School will be selling tickets for Saturday’s Class 4A quarterfinal game against Rochester along with tickets for the Crusaders’ matches at the Class 2A state volleyball tournament from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. this week in the school’s main office.
On Saturday, the Lindenwood Stadium gates will not be open until 5:30 p.m. for the Crusaders’ 7 p.m. football quarterfinal game against Rochester.
Edwardsville back in quarterfinals again
Despite playing without injured leading rusher Dionte Rodgers, the Edwardsville Tigers used an effective backfield trio and a rock-solid defense to defeat Oswego 31-14 on Saturday in a Class 8A second-round game.
The 31 points were the most allowed by Oswego in any game all season. Playing without Rodgers, who has 1,284 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns, the Tigers got 79 rushing yards on 16 carries from Chris McCartney, 42 yards on 10 carries by Cyress Ahart and 49 yards on six carries by senior quarterback Brenden Dickmann.
“I thought Chris McCartney did a great job and Cyress Ahart both did a great job filling in,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. “Our receivers did a great job blocking downfield and our linemen really did well. I thought we won the battle up front.”
Martin said Rodgers is “day-to-day” with an unspecified injury and his status for the 10-1 Tigers’ 1 p.m. quarterfinal game at home Saturday against defending state champion Glenbard West (9-2) has not yet been determined.
Asked whether he thought Rodgers could play, Martin said “There’s always a chance. He’s a competitor.
“We knew he was fast and we knew about his physical skills. Not everybody’s ready for varsity football at a young age. He has the maturity to keep working hard every day and knock on wood, he’s held on to the ball, too.”
While Glenbard West’s 28-21 second-round win over second-ranked and previously unbeaten Homewood-Flossmoor was considered an upset by some in the Chicago area, the Hilltoppers are also 105-10 since 2012 with two state championships.
“Glenbard West as been one of the elite programs in the state for a long time,” Martin said. “They can beat you up from tackle to tackle or they can run jet sweep or toss.”
Highland will get more from Marti, LaPorta
Highland’s season came to an end Saturday with a 28-7 loss at Metamora in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The Bulldogs’ lone touchdown came on a 30-yard pass from Garrett Marti to Sam LaPorta that culminated a 94-yard drive late in the first quarter.
Metamora answered, however, by scoring the final 28 points of the game and handing the Bulldogs (9-2) their first defeat since the season opener against Cahokia.
Marti, a junior, and LaPorta, a sophomore, will return next season to cause more sleepless nights for Highland opponents. Marti finished with 14 TD passes, seven of them to LaPorta.
“I love throwing to him,” the 6-foot, 185-pound Marti said. “I know he’s going to come down with the ball, and if he doesn’t come down with it, I know the other team won’t because he’ll bat it down. He’s tall (6-2), he can jump and he gets to about everything.
“I worked a lot with him in the offseason, throwing routes and getting on the same page. It’s turned out well. The main thing is I’ve just got to throw it up to him and he’ll go get it.”
Marti, who was sidelined with a rib injury for consecutive regular-season games against Waterloo and Civic Memorial as LaPorta handled the quarterback duties, also led the Bulldogs in rushing. But putting the ball in the air is what Marti most enjoys.
“Nothing gets me more excited than going over the top and throwing a touchdown pass to one of my receivers,” he said. “I like running, too, but I would have to say I like throwing more.”
Bulldogs coach Jimmy Warnecke likes knowing two of his best players are returning.
“It’s hard to believe LaPorta is just a sophomore,” Warnecke said. “He can do it all. I wouldn’t want to think about our team without either one of those two young men. They’re just going to get better as time goes on and they get another full season. It’s great synergy.”
Sophomore Brady Feldman, who stepped in for senior Trent Rakers after Rakers suffered a season-ending broken right fibula Sept. 30 against Civic Memorial, also returns.
Tough one for Triad
The Triad Knights lost a tough second-round game in the Class 5A playoffs Saturday, 14-7 to visiting Morris. The Knights (7-4) fell behind 14-0 in the first half, got within seven on a 20-yard TD run by junior Trevor Nott, then saw their final drive fall short in the closing seconds.
Triad coach Paul Bassler hated to see the season end.
“There were a lot of life lessons learned this season through things we did as a program,” Bassler said. “I’m very proud. I’m in this business to change people’s lives. I hope this year is going to change some of those guys’ lives forever, in a good way.
“Hopefully, we can build and learn on this in the offseason and it will sting enough to where we’re pretty hungry. I’ve been here 19 years and I’ve never feared anyone we’ve played. I just hope we can turn our program, before I get out, into a Geneseo or a Morris. We’re going to have to get to a state-title (game) or two before that happens.”