Like so many Southwestern Conference football coaches before and since, Tim Kane had very little success against East St. Louis during his tenure at Collinsville High School from 1997-2002.
On Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Kane gets another shot at the Flyers.
Now head coach at Plainfield North High School, Kane will lead his Tigers against the undefeated Flyers in the Class 7A state championship game, which kicks off at 4 p.m. on the campus of the University of Illinois.
While East St. Louis makes its 11th title game appearance, the 2016 playoffs have made school history for Plainfield North.
The 16th-seeded Tigers have won four straight postseason games — the first four in school history. They were 0-5 before in their previous five playoff appearances before a 42-0 first-round route of Highland Park put playoff victory No. 1 in the books.
“It’s hard to say what the expectations were coming into the playoffs because we had never won a postseason game before this year,” Kane said during a Illinois High School Association teleconference on Monday. “Everything is new. Getting our first playoff win was a new experience for our football program and each week, our kids have continued to step up a little bit more.”
The Tigers will face their toughest test on Saturday against an East St. Louis team that has been dominant on both sides of the football in its first round playoff wins.
Seeded second in the postseason after spending the entire regular season as Illinois’ top-ranked Class 7A team, the Flyers posted their fifth shutout of the season in a 20-0 semifinal win over (Lisle) Benet Academy on Saturday. The Flyers offense, averaging more than 45 points per game, got a pair of touchdown runs from junior Jarrell Anderson and a 32-yard scoring pass from quarterback Reyondous Estes to James Knight.
East St. Louis, which last won the state championship in 2008, enters the football game with a 13-0 record. Plainfield North is 11-2.
“When I think of East St. Louis. I think of athletes and speed on both sides of the football,“ Kane said. “Watching them on film, that’s the case with this team. Offensively, they’ve got great speed and exceptional skilled position players, starting of course with (wide receiver) Jeff Thomas. Up front, they are huge and athletic.
“But in all honesty, I think they may have more play makers on the defensive of the ball. They are fast, they are big and they hit and they swarm to the football.”
Kane had a record of 21-34 during his six years at Collinsville. His 1998 team finished 8-2 and reached the Class 5A playoffs. Kane went on to coach at Washington High School from 2003-04 then left for Plainfield North when the school opened in 2005.
Kane became the head coach in 2006 and has compiled a mark of 58-46 in his 11 seasons.
Tickets on sale
East St. Louis Athletic Director Leonard Manley announced Monday that tickets for the Class 7A state championship game will be on sale Tuesday and Wednesday at the high school office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets are $10 each.
The game is at 4 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Plainfield North punched its ticket to Champaign and Saturday’s championship game under a cloud of controversy.
Semifinal opponent Fenwick was leading Plainfield North 10-7 late in the fourth quarter. As time expired, Fenwick quarterback Jacob Keller heaved a fourth-and-15 pass down field while his teammates celebrated the apparent victory on the sideline.
But game officials flagged Keller for intentional grounding and allowed Plainfield North an extra play from the spot of the penalty, the Fenwick 5-yard line, which the Tigers converted to a game-tying field goal.
Plainfield North went on to win the game in overtime.
By rule, however, Plainfield North never should have been allowed a final play. IHSA Executive director Craig Anderson released a statement acknowledging as much late Saturday.
“The game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded,” he wrote.
Citing IHSA bylaw 6.033, which says “the decisions of game officials shall be final; protests against the decision of a game official shall not be reviewed by the Board of Directors,” Anderson said he would not overturn the game’s outcome.
But they should, Fenwick coach Gene Nudo told the Chicago Tribune.
“There will never ever be a protest for an egregious act as long as that rule is there,” Nudo told Tribune reporter Mike Helfgot. “It’s a great way to hide behind something — it is final and that is it. How is that the right thing to do?
“I’m not one of these guys always banging on the IHSA. I get it, they don’t have an easy gig over there. In this instance they had a chance to right a wrong and they didn’t.”
Strike still stings
Elation from each win along the road to the 7A title game has taken some of the sting out of the District 189 teachers strike that prematurely ended the Flyers’ season in 2015.
East Side had had three wins after week 5, but had to forfeit its final four games.
“We all thought we had an opportunity to get to this point last year, but it felt like it was taken from us due to the strike,” Sunkett said.
Sunkett turned the Flyers attention toward making themselves stronger as the strike wore on. While other teams took their lumps on the field, the Flyers built their endurance in the weight room.
“It just gave our guys a couple extra weeks to work out and hit the weight room while everybody else was practicing,” he said. “They started preparing their bodies right away for this season. It couldn’t be more gratifying right now than to reach this goal these guys set for themselves.”
It’ll take one more win to make the sting of the strike go away completely.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. After having that strike last year and couldn’t play our season, our goal this year was to come back and win state,” said senior defensive back Markevion Darough. “We’re just finishing our job. When we win, it feels like a new beginning.”