Photo by Jeff Vorva
St. Laurence receiver Alex Saunders walks off the field Saturday while Sacred Heart Griffin fans and players celebrate a 28-16 victory over the Vikings in the Class 6A state semifinals.
SPRINGFIELD – Cyclone Stadium is aesthetically one of the nicest places to visit for football fans.
It was built in 2012 in an area surrounded by trees and nice scenery. The stands on both sides are new and spacious. The field has turf. The concession stand is huge and has a large TV so that customers waiting for their popcorn or hot dogs can keep an eye on the action.
But for opponents of Sacred Heart-Griffin, it is an ugly house of horrors and teams wearing the white jerseys leave there feeling lousy.
The Cyclones have not lost to an Illinois team there yet (they did, however, drop a 40-17 decision to Indianapolis Cathedral on Sept. 28, 2012) and it didn’t happen Saturday, either.
St. Laurence had a few “wait…maybe…’’ moments but dropped a 28-16 game in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A state semifinals. It’s the second time in a row the Vikings (9-4) lost in the semis. In 2015, they were beaten at home by Nazareth, 34-0, in a blizzard.
This time, it was sunny but windy and cold in the state capitol but the early part of the game the Vikings found themselves down 21-0. The special teams gave up an 87-yard kickoff touchdown return to Spencer Redd on the first play of the game to set the tone.
The Vikings, seeded 12th in the lower bracket, came back from deficits against fifth-seeded Richards, fourth-seeded Crete-Monee and top-seeded Lemont to register playoff victories and when they clawed back and trimmed the deficit to 21-14 and had the ball on the Cyclones 8, it looked like comeback No. 4 was in the works.
But on fourth-and-two, quarterback Romello Washington was stopped for a loss and the Cyclones took the ball and momentum back with five minutes left in the third.
“I called the plays and I’ll take the blame,” Vikings coach Harold Blackmon said. “I did not have my best game. I could have done more for these guys. I thought about kicking a field goal and I’m kicking myself for that.
“I take chances. I’ve taken chances all season and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. That’s just the nature of what I am. I felt like the play that we ran worked before and we didn’t use it for a couple of plays and I thought it would work this time.’’
“We didn’t get the yards we needed,” a dejected Washington said.
The Cyclones (who are 13-0 and racked up the program’s 600th career win) went on a 79-yard drive capped by a 53-yard Tim Brennieisn-to-Vince Mounce connection that two St. Laurence defenders appeared to have a bead on.
“I made a bad break by a half a yard or two…that’s football,” said defensive back Jimmy Burnette.
Washington threw for 273 yards including a 65-yard scoring strike to Levi Hamer. Fayezon Smart had 19 carries for 40 yards and a 9-yard TD run. The Vikings scored two points late in the game when Springfield took an intentional safety.
Springfield faces Prairie Ridge (also 13-0) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
St. Laurence will get to think about another tough loss deep into the postseason.
“I love being the playoffs and I love being in the semifinals but in some aspects, losing like this is more painful than finishing 4-5,” the coach said. “You are right there. All you have to do is win a football game. This is the second year we’ve come up short.”