Mater Dei’s return trip to the Illinois 4A football semifinals fell inches short.
Senior fullback Trevor Johnson was stopped at the pylon trying to give the Knights a quarterfinal victory on a two-point conversion attempt with 6.8 seconds left.
But the Canton Little Giants stood tall, earning their first trip to the football final four with a shocking 43-42 win.
Mater Dei head coach Jim Stiebel, however, said the win was stolen from the Knights. Sideline cell phone footage will prove Johnson scored, he said.
“The ball hit the pylon and he was on top of somebody, so there’s no way his knee was down,” he said. “We won that ball game and the refs stole it from our kids and there is no doubt in my mind.”
“It was the worse reffing I’ve ever seen. I just watched it on film — he scored.”
Mater Dei Athletic Director Ron Schadegg, who had not yet seen the recorded footage of the play, wasn’t sure what recourse Stiebel and the Knights could take, if any.
For the Little Giants (10-2) the shootout victory made history for the program. They’ll go on to face the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal game between Althoff and Rochester at Lindenwood University-Belleville.
“This means everything,” said Canton coach Ryan Pearson. “When I first took over the program three years ago they were 3-42 the previous five years. For us to get to this point three years in, honestly, is a great feeling.”
The Knights, whose season ended last year with a semifinal loss to Althoff, fell to 7-5.
The score was tied or changed hands nine times before Canton quarterback Clint Wells capped an 11-play, six-minute drive with a four-yard run. A two-point conversion made it a seven-point game, 43-36.
With 1:56 left, Pearson worried that his team left too much time on the clock for the Mater Dei offense, which totaled 404 yards of offense.
“I knew with an offense as potent as theirs they could score with not much time on the clock,” he said. “I wanted to run the clock down more than what we did, but at the same time we had to make sure we got into the end zone.”
Mater Dei senior quarterback Colin Schuetz, who completed 20-of-30 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, validated Pearson’s concerns. He moved the Knights 70 yards on 10 plays, capping the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spears.
Stiebel elected to go for the win instead of the tie, setting up the controversial two-point conversion play.
“I wanted to carry the ball on that play, but the coaches felt they would be keyed on me,” Schuetz said. “I was a decoy going out the other end. I didn’t see if he got in or not. The way we came all the way down that field at the end is pretty remarkable. I’m trying to keep a smile on my face.”
Lucas Theising had eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown; Jake Timmerman caught four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown; and Spears had five catches for 50 yards and a score. A.J. Albers was the Knights top rusher with 44 yards and a touchdown.
Wells led Canton, rushing 16 times fro 103 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed four of seven passes for 122 yards. Drake Yerbic added 70 yards on 10 carries with two scores.