The participants had an inkling that the 2011 Class 5A football state championship could be something extraordinary.
Montini was going for its third consecutive state championship with a high-powered spread offense led by quarterback John Rhode and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who was headed to Nebraska.
Joliet Catholic, with 13 state titles, favored a running game that could strike quickly from anywhere, with running backs Ty Isaac (2,114) and Malin Jones (1,494) rushing behind a line that averaged 225 pounds a man.
“When you’re playing JCA with those running backs, you kind of knew we were going to have to put up points like we did,” Montini wide receiver Joey Borsellino said. “It was one of the best games ever.”
In a pregame interview, Montini coach Chris Andriano joked with a sideline reporter, “Don’t blink. Because if you blink, you’re going to miss a touchdown.”
It was a great and prophetic quip.
What happened over the next 2 1/2 hours was almost indescribable. The two state powerhouses put on an offensive exhibition unlike anything ever seen in Illinois, breaking practically every rushing, passing, receiving and scoring record ever set.
When it was all over, Montini had won its third in a row, 70-45, in a game that totaled 1,644 yards of offense and left fans dizzy from the excitement.
“It was a crazy, wild game,” Andriano said. “It was like a tennis match, your head goes from left to right. It was like, ‘Holy smoke! I can’t believe this.’”
REWRITING THE RECORD BOOK
Thirteen state championship game records fell, many of which still stand for any of the eight classes. Rhode’s 587 passing yards, Westerkamp’s 353 receiving yards and Isaac’s 515 rushing yards and six touchdowns were among the records that were smashed.
Isaac, a junior that season who later played at Southern California and Michigan, set the championship rushing record by halftime with more than 300 yards.
“I had to talk our defensive coordinator Mike Bukovsky (now the Broncos head coach) off the ledge at halftime,” Andriano said. “We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have an answer.”
Other than to just keep scoring.
The Hilltoppers (11-3) led, 31-28, at halftime. The lead changed hands four times in the first 6:04 of the second half. Eventually, Montini (12-2) forced two fumbles in the third quarter and capitalized on both turnovers to get some distance.
“I’ve never seen an offensive game like that,” former Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said. “I was involved in a 56-50 game against Riverside-Brookfield, but scoring that fast on such large chunks on both sides was something I’d never seen before. The kids played their hearts out.”
ON THE RUN
Isaac was amazing, scoring on touchdown runs of 71, 63, 56, 66, 2 and 69 yards. Jones finished with 27 carries himself for 187 yards. Andriano considered Isaac, Jones and Tyler Reitz the best backfield he had ever seen in high school.
“We ran a lot of the same plays all the time, we were really good at them,” Isaac said. “Whether it was not making the adjustments or being out of position for them, it seemed like every run on the right side was working. Malin ran for a lot of yards, too. There were a lot of things working.
“I remember every time we came off the field, I was thinking, ‘Just make it a long series. I don’t care if they score, I’m getting tired.’ If we could just hold them to six or seven plays, then I’d see the ball go up and it was ‘All right, time to put your helmet back on.’”
Michigan wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski was recruiting Isaac at the time. Isaac committed to USC and played a year, then transferred to Michigan for his last three years. Michigan beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor that day, but Sharp laughs at how quickly news spread of Isaac’s exploits.
“Coming off the field, (Hecklinski) heard, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ ” Sharp said. “He said, ‘We just beat Ohio State.’ Someone said, ‘No, Isaac had 515 yards rushing.’ The celebrity of that (title) game traveled all around.”
JUST GET A STOP
Joliet Catholic finished with 769 rushing yards, but as frustrated as Montini was trying to stop the Hilltoppers, it was two huge defensive plays that did it, when the Broncos forced two Isaac fumbles.
“That’s the never-quit, never-stop attitude that Montini has,” Borsellino said. “It takes one play. Never stop going after the ball. What can you do when a team is that talented?”
Andriano was impressed with his players’ demeanor.
“You’re just thinking about the next play,” he said. “Can you survive? Can you stay in the game? They scored so fast on some big plays that it’s demoralizing. It can get to you. Our kids had no bad body language, they hung in there, they were very determined and focused. That was, to me, the highlight of the game, the way our kids reacted under duress. I just loved our kids’ attitude.”
Broncos defenders could take heart in one thing – Joliet Catholic could not stop Rhode, Westerkamp, Borsellino and the others either.
Rhode finished 29 of 45 for 587 yards and seven touchdowns. Westerkamp caught 12 passes, five of which went for scores. Borsellino and Anthony Taylor caught one each.
“All the plays you work on, everything you talked about since you were a kid, and then we were able to do that on that stage, put up 70 points,” Borsellino said. “It was definitely one of the most enjoyable moments that I’ve ever had.”
Andriano retired following the 2017-18 school year with his teams having played for seven state championships, winning five, in his last eight seasons.
For drama, none of the Broncos’ titles may beat the 2009 team which beat Joliet Catholic, 29-28. With 32 seconds remaining, quarterback Brandon Pechloff hit Christian Westerkamp (Jordan’s older brother) for a 12-yard touchdown, then connected with him again on the 2-point conversion. That started a string of four straight state titles.
But for shear craziness and excitement, the 2011 game was hard for anyone to top.
“That’s special. That’s an all-time game,” Andriano said. “You may never see another game like that. When you get special players making big plays back and forth like that, that one’s going to be remembered for a long, long time.”
Sharp fondly regards that 2011 championship, even though the Hilltoppers lost.
“It was a tough one to lose,” he said. “I’d rather be a part of a game like that and lose than not be a part of it. That was something special.”
“To run for that many yards, man, 500 yards, I never even did that on the playground,” Isaac said. “It was a lot of fun. Obviously, you play to win the game, but it’s hard not to have fun when you have that much success running the ball.”
A look at the offensive records set in the 2011 Class 5A state championship football game when Montini beat Joliet Catholic, 70-45, at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.
Yards passing: John Rhode, 587, still the record for all classes in title games.
Longest TD pass: Rhode to Jordan Westerkamp for 94 yards.
TD passes: Rhode with seven, the record for all classes.
Receiving yards: Westerkamp 353, the record for all classes by 94 yards.
TD receptions: Westerkamp with five.
Most points: 70.
Total yards: 853.
Joliet Catholic Records
Rushing yards (individual): Ty Isaac with 515. He broke the record for all classes by halftime with more than 300 yards. No other player has rushed for more than 400 in a title game.
Rushing yards (team): 769.
Rushing touchdowns: Isaac with six, the record for all classes. He scored on runs of 71, 63, 56, 66, 2 and 69 yards.
Most points: 115.
Total yards: 1,644.