Joliet West wins conference title, makes history with win over Plainfield Central

Juan Rico runs for two TDs, throws another for Tigers in 35-12 win

Joliet West's Micah Mcnair (8) celebrates a pick six during football game between Joliet West at Plainfield Central.   Oct 20, 2023.

PLAINFIELD - Micah McNair intercepted the pass, returned it 45 yards for a touchdown and the party was on for Joliet West.

There was plenty to celebrate as the Tigers wrapped up an 8-1 regular season - their best since going 9-0 in 1968 - clinched the outright Southwest Prairie East title for their first outright conference crown in more than 50 years and assured themselves of a first-round playoff home game.

“I’m still trying to take it all in,” Joliet West quarterback Juan Rico said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, but we’re going with the 24-hours rule. We’re going to enjoy this for 24 hours and then we’re going to focus on next week. I’m already excited for next week.”

Rico ran for two touchdowns and threw another and Joliet West’s defense was dominant again Friday night in a 35-12 win over Plainfield Central.

McNair’s interception return came with 10 minutes, 29 seconds left in the game, making the score 35-6 and crushing faint hopes for the Wildcats (4-5, 3-2) to rally in order to gain playoff eligibility.

“It felt great to run that in and punch our ticket,” McNair said. “Now we’re going to get ready for the playoffs.”

The Tigers outgained Plainfield Central 397-199.

Joliet West’s defense swarmed Plainfield Central all night as the Tigers (8-1, 5-0) had five sacks, KeShawn Wiley leading the way with two.

“(Coach Dan) Tito always tells us to fly to the ball,” McNair said. “That’s how it starts and then we just dominate.”

Rico completed 16-of-28 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown and ran for 80 yards and two scores on 15 carries.

Roman Frankiewicz had a big day for the Plainfield Central defense, coming up with a blocked punt and a fumble recovery. Josiah Taylor had three tackles for loss and Stephon Griffin produced an interception.

After taking momentum into halftime with a 14-point second quarter giving them a 14-0 lead, the Tigers kept it rolling on the opening drive of the third quarter, going 68 yards on eight plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down quarterback sneak from Juan Rico to make it 21-0.

The Wildcats got on the board on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Matt Leto to Max Russell, but Joliet West answered on the first play of the fourth quarter as Rico scored on a 2-yard run to extend the lead to 28-6.

Leto also threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Zach Barraza on the final play of the game.

A scoreless first quarter ended with a key moment on the final play as Joliet West’s Peyton Barborek recovered a fumble at the Plainfield Central 6-yard line.

On the second play of the second quarter, Taivaughn Johnson ran for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Tigers the lead.

Joliet West added to the lead with 26 seconds left in the first half with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Rico to Parker Schwarting to make it 14-0 at halftime.

The Tigers’s defense dominated the first half, holding Plainfield Central to negative four yards. Joliet West, meanwhile, had 221 yards in the half.

With that, Joliet West was well on its way to an historic night.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Tito said. “We’ve had a program with not a lot of success in the past, but this team is special.”