Today would have been IHSA State Championship Game Day for Class 1-4A.
Seven teams from Bureau County have reached the mecca of Illinois prep football, three winning the big prize: 1995 Hall, 2001 Hall and 2005 Bureau Valley.
Princeton, coming off a 3A semifinals appearance in 2019, was primed to shoot for a state crown, returning a strong a cast of talent. But we will never know this fall, due to the cancellation of the IHSA season due to the pandemic.
Here’s a look back:
• 1982 (1A) — Walnut (12-1) lost to Ziegler-Royalton 7-6: The Blue Raiders became the first county team to reach the state finals, falling just one point from gridiron glory at Hancock Stadium in Normal. When they had a chance to win, they went for it.
Trailing 7-0 with 5 1/2 minutes left in the game, the Blue Raiders scored on a 4-yard run by junior Jamie Schoff to cut the score to 7-6. The Blue Raiders could have taken the safer route with a game-tying PAT. Coach Kim Courtwright opted to go for the win, calling for an option for a 2-point conversion. The aggressive, play-to-win style got them that far.
Walnut quarterback Jeff Holoway was knocked out of bounds on a bootleg, just inches shy of the goal line, and the Blue Raiders still trailed 7-6.
“He hit the pylon, but they said the ball didn’t cross. It came that close to being 8-7 our way. But that’s the beauty of sports,” Walnut coach Kim Courtwright said.
Walnut used a last-second, 70-yard Hail Mary pass from Holoway to Ken TerBush that kept the Blue Raiders dream alive in the state quarterfinals with a 16-13 win over Durand.
• 1989 (3A) — Princeton (12-2) lost to Belleville Althoff 38-7: Tiger Style Ran Wild in Princeton, where the Tigers ran all the way to the state finals game in Normal. The Tigers came up big with playoff wins over rival Hall (13-7), Alleman (27-14) and Aurora Marmion (35-7), but met their match against the powerful Crusaders of Althoff, which had played primarily a 5-6A schedule (of six classes) before playing down for the playoffs.
The Tigers took a 7-6 lead with 9:34 to play in the second quarter on a 4-yard run by Sean Schickel and PAT by Doug Bruyn, the quarterback. PHS would not score again as the Crusaders answered with 15 points in the second quarter, 10 in the third quarter and seven more in the fourth to run off with a 38-7 victory.
It was Princeton’s first and last state finals appearance.
• 1995 (3A) — Hall (13-1) beat DuQuoin 38-32: The Red Devils became the first state champion in school history in any sport and first in football in the Illinois Valley. It was a miraculous finish as the Red Devils rallied from a 32-22 deficit with 16 points in the final 1 1/2 minutes to hoist the big prize.
Fullback Nick Guerrini, scored on a 1-yard score from with 1:27 left to play. Eric Bryant, now the Hall athletic director, recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Hall 43 to keep the Red Devils alive. Vicini said the Red Devils hadn’t worked on onside kicks all year.
Guerrini, who will kick off his tenure as Hall head coach when football resumes, completed the historic comeback by bursting through for a 3-yard touchdown – his third score of the game – with just three seconds on the clock, for the 38-32 victory.
• 1996 (3A) — Hall (12-2) lost to Carterville 23-20: Gary Vicini’s Red Devils return to the state finals for the second straight year, unable to recapture its gridiron glory, falling by three on a rain-soaked night in Normal. This time the Lions had the late heroics for the win.
Carterville scored in the first quarter and added another touchdown with 2:03 left in the second quarter to go up 14-0.
The Red Devils got on the board with just 29 seconds left in the half on a 1-yard run by Turigliatti to make it 14-6. Another 1-yard run and conversion run by Turigliatti tied the game at 14 late in the third quarter and a 12-yard run by Eric Bryant early in the fourth quarter to cap a 20-0 Hall surge to gain a 20-14 lead.
Hall punter Craig Olson knelt in the end zone to take a safety with 4:01 remaining to protect the lead, now 20-16. The Lions returned the ensuing free kick to the Hall 40 and Carterville’s Billy Pinkston got the last of 141 yards rushing on a 30-yard score to put the Lions on top 23-20.
Hall outscored its season foes 459-182, including playoff victories over Watseka (36-12), Coal City (21-14), Addison Driscoll (22-21) and Marengo (41-28) to return to state.
• 2001 (3A) - Hall (13-1) beat LeRoy 21-0: The Red Devils made their third appearance to the state finals in seven years, this time in Champaign, bringing home their second straight crown.
The Red Devils’ 70-yard touchdown burst by Levi Derber on the second play of scrimmage was soured when Hall quarterback Brant Baltikauski was bowled over, the holder for the ensuing PAT. Baltikauski sustained a severe lateral ankle sprain and was unable to return.
That left the quarterbacking duties to junior reserve William Chiado, who had attempted five passes for 67 yards all year. He proved more than up to the challenge, passing for a 67-yard TD strike to Ryan Ferrari late in the third quarter to put the Red Devils up 14-0.
Steve Coutts added a 2-yard touchdown with 2:29 left in the fourth quarter to send Hall off for its second state championship with a 21-0 victory.
The stingy Hall defense shut the Panthers out on 134 net yards.
The Red Devils’ only lost of the season came to Rochelle in NCIC play in Week 7.
• 2004 (3A) - BV (13-1) lost to Addison Driscoll 37-14: The Storm is considered by many to be the best Bureau Valley team. It ran into a buzz saw in the state championship game, falling to a Driscoll team that won its fourth state title in a run of seven straight.
Even still, the Storm scored first on a 66-yard romp by quarterback Brad Monier and battled the mighty Highlanders to a 7-7 halftime tie.
Driscoll scored twice in the third quarter before Ben Doty added a 53-yard run late to make it 21-14. The Highlanders scored 16 fourth-quarter points to win going away.
“Our kids fought all game and they were warriors. We played them tough the entire first half and with a break we might have been able to get a lead instead of a 7-7 tie at halftime,” BV coach Jason Kirby said. “But the kids stuck to it and battled in the second half. Driscoll made some things happen when they needed it and you saw the outcome. They are a great team.’’
The Storm had five shutouts in the eight regular season games it played (they gained a forfeit over River Valley), outscoring its opponents by an incredible 316-28 (39.5 to 3.5). They pitched a sixth shutout with a 21-0 over Nashville in the state semifinals.
• 2005 (3A) - BV (14-0) beat Tolono Unity 34-7: Not many would have thought the Storm would make it back to the state finals, having lost much firepower from the 2004 state runner-up team. Yet here they were, and this time, the Storm were on top of the 3A world.
After demolishing southern Illinois powerhouse DuQuoin 33-14, the Storm turned their sights on Tolono Unity in Champaign. BV scored twice in each of the first and second quarters to take a 27-7 halftime lead and added a late fourth-quarter score to make it a 34-7 final, finishing as the Perfect Storm.
BV had a wild card in its deck in junior Garret Barnas, who took over as quarterback for his step-dad’s (Dave Moore) Storm and flourished throughout the season. The BCR Player of the Year rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 155 yards in the title game.
The Storm racked up 407 yards while holding Tolono Unity to 209.