In each of the last six seasons, the Montini Broncos have been on the field for the Illinois Class 5A state football championship game.
The Broncos followed up four straight state titles from 2009 to 2012 with a pair of runner-up finishes, losing in the title game in 2013 and 2014 to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin. Griffin defeated the Broncos 29-14 last November to win the state title.
Now the Broncos, based in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, will visit East St. Louis for a 6 p.m. game Saturday. This clash of historically strong teams will place programs with a combined 12 state championships — seven by East St. Louis — on the field at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium.
East St. Louis has 745 football victories in its proud history, the most of any program in the state. Chicago Mt. Carmel is second with 717 wins.
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Montini was third in the preseason 6A state rankings while East St. Louis was fourth in 7A after petitioning the Illinois High School Association to move up from its actual enrollment of 6A for the playoffs.
A year ago in Chicago, Montini defeated the Flyers 46-32 despite a 274-yard, two-touchdown performance by East Side back Natereace Strong and 495 yards of total offense.
Montini was 10-4 last season, including a 4-1 mark in the Chicago Catholic League’s Green division.
The Broncos delivered a 20-17 victory over Maine South in theri 2015 season opener with the defense producing three interceptions. East St. Louis visited the South Side of Chicago and came away with a 28-21 victory over state-ranked Simeon despite being down 21-6 at halftime.
Top Montini players include junior running back Prince Walker (1,082 yards last season), fullback-middle linebacker John Embrey, wide receiver Mitch West and senior quarterback Justin Blake.
Walker had a 60-yard TD run in the opener and West caught a 50-yard TD pass from Blake, who was 13-for-18 for 209 yards. Blake also ran the ball 18 times for 115 yards.
“This may be the fastest team we’ve had,” Montini coach Chris Andriano told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month. “Our speed is off the charts. We have six guys that can really fly, in the 4.4 to 4.6 range. You can tell in practice that the field gets stretched really quick now.
“We’re really putting pressure on the edges and down the field in the passing game. It’s fun to watch, really.”
Columbia’s Horner gets 100th win
Coaching wins don’t build as quickly in football as other sports, which is why it took Columbia Eagles coach Scott Horner 17 seasons to collect his 100th career victory. He hit the century mark Friday in a 49-0 victory over Wood River and said the biggest thing the milestone did was remind him where he came from.
His father, Tom Horner, was a former head football coach at Centralia. Other big influences in Horner’s career were former Carlyle coaches Gary Wheeler and Randy Dooley, ex-Columbia coach Jerry Germain and former Dupo coach Gary Mauser.
“It was never a goal, it just happened and it’s part of my career,” said Horner, whose 1-0 Eagles squad was ranked ninth in the Class 4A state poll. “It gave me an opportunity to look back and remember all the guys that have played for me over the years, the guys and the coaches that have put forth the effort.
“Those coaches were all mentors and guys that I looked up to.”
Horner, who also coached two seasons at Red Bud, downplayed any thoughts of 100 being a “big number.”
“Not when you pick up the paper and read the guy from (St. Louis University High) just won his 200th,” Horner said. “The only thing it means to me that I’ve been fortunate enough to coach a lot of great players and there’s a lot of people that were part of that.”
Granite City’s big win
Matching their win total from a 1-8 campaign in 2014, the Granite City Warriors got the 2015 season off to a rousing start Friday with a 49-30 victory over Jerseyville.
Down 14-7 after the first quarter, the Warrios roared back by scoring the next five touchdowns on the way to a win.
Runnnig back Brandon Bettag had 132 yards rushing and three TDs while quarterback Gabe Jarman ran for 108 yards and two TDs. The Warriors ran the ball 48 times for 308 yards.
“That’s a good win and a builder for us for right now. The kids are pretty happy,” said Granite City coach Carl Luehmann, whose teams were 0-9, 2-7 and 1-8 after a 6-4 record and state playoff appearance in 2011. “They had a rough season last year and some of them are back. To come out and get a win, the kids were pretty pumped up. It carries over to the next week and we’ve got Riverview on Saturday.”
Riverview Gardens was Granite City’s lone win a year ago, so the Warriors have a chance to go 2-0.
“Our offensive line did a heck of a job, especially in the second half,” Luehmann said. “They settled in and we made some adjustment, so the kids really responded.
Belleville East senior wide receiver Isaiah King made the second of his two touchdown receptions Friday especially memorable.
Lancers quarterback Drew Millas put the right touch on a 28-yard fade pass toward the Normal end zone. King was interfered with by the Normal safety, but managed to get his hands on the ball, which he caught laying on his back across the goal line.
It was a huge play at the time that brought the Lancers within four points of the Ironmen, 35-31, with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Three second-half turnovers spoiled an otherwise strong showing by the East offense as the Lancers lost 63-31 to the state’s seventh-ranked 7A team.
Collinsville fell just short in its upset bid as the Kahoks led for much of the second half before Althoff connected on a TD pass with 15.9 seconds remaining to win 24-22.
“We made about four crucial error and if we don’t make any one of those four, we win,” said Kahoks coach Rick Reinhart, who was making his Collinsville debut. We needed more outside pressure on that last play and there was also a bad snap and a missed field goal.
“I’m really happy with the way the kids fought back. It was good to see people get excited about Collinsville football. It’s going to be another test this week.”
The Kahoks play host to the Triad Knights (1-0) on Friday.
News-Democrat Large-School (5A-8A) Football Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses.
Large school rankings (Class 5A-8A)
East St. Louis (4)
Also receiving votes: O’Fallon (0-1), Belleville East (0-1), Granite City (1-0), Alton (0-1), Collinsville (0-1), Waterloo (0-1)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-4A)
Mater Dei (1)
Also receiving votes: Freeburg (1-0), Nashville (1-0), Wesclin (1-0), Roxana (1-0), Carlyle (0-1)