While much of the city of Chicago will be rooting for Phillips Academy to become the first Public League state football champion in history on Friday, the Althoff Crusaders are firm in their belief they can keep that from happening.
Both teams are 13-0 and own impressive rosters and monster wins. Althoff ended Rochester’s run of five straight state titles while Phillips (13-0) stepped up in class and knocked off 7A second-round playoff qualifier Simeon 29-18.
Both teams have lineups with Division I recruits, dazzling playmakers and the kind of blazing speed capable of turning any missed tackle into a potential touchdown.
“The limelight doesn’t bother these kids,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said of his squad. “They’ve just got a little something extra in them. I guess it comes from them playing a lot of ball their whole lives, they’re not afraid of good competition and thrive on playing against talented people.”
There will be no shortage of talent on either side of the ball this time.
Phillips has won 24 of its last 25 games and reached the 4A championship game a year ago, losing 49-28 to Rochester. Are expectations higher in a second straight state finals appearance?
The limelight doesn’t bother these kids. They’ve just got a little something extra in them. Althoff coach Ken Turner
“They’re just focused on the task at hand,” Phillips coach Troy McAllister said. “It’s an opportunity to make history, but they’re just trying to win a ballgame. Last year we were always the underdog and this year we were always the favorite in just about every game.
“They’ve got athletes, we’ve got athletes. They’ve got speed, we’ve got speed. Those matchups and and how they play out should have a big factor on the outcome of the game.”
Another factor could be the weather. Game-time temperature forecast is 31 degrees with 15 mph winds.
Althoff (13-0) vs. Phillips (13-0), 7 p.m. at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
Althoff ran past Mater Dei 48-20 in the semifinals while Phillips buried Marengo 47-13.
STATE FINALS HISTORY
Althoff won state championships in 1980 (4A), 1989 (3A) and 1990 (3A) and finished second in 2012 (2A). Phillips finished second in 2014 (4A).
Senior quarterback Quayvon Skanes, a University of Connecticut wide receiver recruit, ran for 208 yards and four TDs on only eight carries last week in the semifinals against Marengo. His blazing speed and big-play capability have led to 1,317 yards rushing and 39 touchdowns along with 33-for-61 passing for 460 yards and 12 TDs.
Skanes ran for a 64-yard TD on the second play of the game last week, later adding TD runs of 49 and 43 yards in the first half.
“We cannot let their quarterback come out and run for whatever he did last week,” Turner said. “We can’t let that happen. We know they’ve got two good runners, too. We can’t let them go for 60-yard or 70-yard touchdowns. We need to make them go the length of the field on long drives.”
After seeing Althoff on film I realize why Rochester went down. They’re talented, they’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. On offense they practically do whatever they want and on defense they really fly to the ball. They’re really fun to watch. Phillips coach Troy McAllister
Phillips also features junior running back Kamari Mosby (2,246 yards, 18 TDs) behind a solid offensive line that doesn’t need to open up the biggest hole in the world for the Wildcats’ playmakers. Especially with a season rushing total of 4,393 yards.
“We’re a running team,” McAllister said. “That’s what we do and we do a lot of running with the quarterback. When you get a dynamic playmaker like Quayvon and you put him there, great things happen.”
How potent is the Phillips offense, which includes receiver Qadeer Weatherly (13 catches, 300 yards, seven TDs)? The Wildcats have been behind only once all season and that was back in Week 3 against Simeon.
The rock-solid, hyper-aggressive Wildcats defense of defensive coordinator and Mascoutah High graduate Mike Larson has five shutouts. Phillips has held nine teams to one TD or fewer while the offense has outscored teams 543-87.
With injured Iowa linebacker recruit Amani Jones out for the season, junior Division I recruit Chris Elmore (6-foot, 265 pounds) anchors the defense with 146 tackles and 11 sacks. Another defensive force is junior lineman Amir Watts (6-2, 260), who is piling up Division I offers thanks to his 128 tackles, 31 for a loss, and seven sacks.
Phillips likes to get heavy pressure on quarterbacks and has been able to use pressing man coverage on receivers.
“There are a lot of similarities (between us),” McAllister said. “They’re big up front on their D-line. We’re not huge on our D-line but we’re very physical.”
Phillips has been a brick wall for most opponents, but the Crusaders believe they are bringing a sledgehammer to the fight.
Althoff has 621 points this season, averaging 47.8 points and scoring 46 points or more in each of its four playoff wins. The Crusaders have 6,378 yards overall, but are a bit more balanced than Phillips with 3,516 yards of that in passing from senior Jordan Augustine.
“After seeing Althoff on film I realize why Rochester went down,” McAllister said. “They’re talented, they’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. On offense they practically do whatever they want and on defense they really fly to the ball.
“They’re really fun to watch.”
Augustine has completed 214-of-294 passes for 39 TDs and nine interceptions, also rushing for 289 yards and nine TDs.
“He’s accurate, he can throw the deep ball, can make all the throws,” Turner said. “He’s had to control everything this year ... he’s like another coach on the field.”
The Crusaders have two 1,000-yard rushers in junior Jaylon Bester (1,223 yards, 21 TDs) and senior Malik Easley (1,141 yards, 17 TDs) and the first two 1,000-yard receivers in school history in senior Jackson State recruit Keenen Young (73 catches, 1,105 yards, 17 TDs) and junior C.J. Coldon (61 catches, 1,316 yards, 16 TDs).
Althoff also has major Division I basketball recruit Jordan Goodwin (35 catches, 448 yards, three TDs) and Illinois-Chicago basketball recruit Tarkus Ferguson (31 catches, 439 yards, two TDs).
Althoff’s is loaded at linebacker with juniors Bryson Strong (148 tackles, 10 sacks) and Chris Branson (117 tackles, three sacks) and on the line with Christian Wills (73 tackles, eight sacks). Looking for run support against Phillips, expect Coldon (64 tackles, two interceptions) to play a big role from his safety spot along with cornerbacks Edwyn Brown (six interceptions) and Ishaiah Williams.
At a glance
If you want to watch Althoff’s state title game on TV, here is the information you need to know.
- Game time: 7 p.m. at Huskie Stadium; Northern Illinois University in DeKalb
- Channels as provided by the Illinois High School Association
- Charter Cable: 223, 224, 825
- DirecTV: 665, 665-1
- Dish: 429, 441, 5429, 9579
- ATT Uverse: 741
- Live streaming available at IHSA.tv