IHSA Class 4A playoffs: Wheaton Academy rides strong defense to program’s first quarterfinals berth

Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.com
Wheaton Academy's Brandon Kiebles, right, celebrates his second-quarter tocudown with treammate Jay Krueger during Friday’s Class 4A football playoff game against St. Viator in Arlington Heights Friday.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – Wheaton Academy used an old-school Catholic League formula to upended St. Viator 12-3 on Nov. 3 in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.

Wheaton Academy (10-1) advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history. The No. 4-seeded Warriors host No. 8 Sandwich (8-3) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Defense and field position – with a solid running game sprinkled in – enabled Wheaton Academy to move on.

“I was pleased with our guys because we established the run game,” Wheaton Academy coach Jim Johanik said. “Our defense stood up today. They came and arrived.”

The kicking game by the Warriors’ Ethan Head kept St. Viator (6-5) in a hole the entire game. The Lions started their first five possessions on their own 20-yard line each time.

“Ethan Head is one of the best in the country,” Johanik said. “He is a special player.”

Wheaton Academy’s defense, led by Jeremiah Johanik, Ethan Brunner, Robert Grant, William From and Jake Weston, held St. Viator to 22 rushing yards and 129 yards of total offense.

“We game planned down to every motion,” said Jeremiah Johanik, who plays middle linebacker. “Nothing surprised us. Everything we saw, we saw a thousand times in practice. We stopped them. They got nothing on us.”

Brunner, who plays defensive end, said the key was to contain St. Viator quarterback Cooper Kmet.

“We knew that he is a great runner and passer,” Brunner said. “We just kept preaching contain, contain, contain. Upfront our goal is to play hard and play for our brother.”

Wheaton Academy took the early lead thanks to a 39-yard field goal by Head with 6:11 left in the first quarter.

The Warriors then put together another successful scoring drive.

Wheaton Academy drove 63 yards in seven plays, running the ball successfully while eating up clock. Gino Spinelli had an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 9-0.

The score remained that way until St. Viator began a drive with reasonable field position.

Beginning at their own 36, the Lions moved the ball downfield behind the passing of Kmet (14-of-25, 107 yards) to the Warriors’ 11. When the drive stalled, Gabe Glodz came on to boot a 31-yard field goal to cut the margin to 9-3 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.

St. Viator then came up with a couple of huge stops to stay in the game.

Wheaton Academy pushed the ball down to the St. Viator 1-yard line, but after two unsuccessful plays, the Warriors fumbled and the Lions recovered in the end zone.

The Warriors looked to increase their lead midway through the fourth quarter when Head attempted a 27-yard field goal. But Driese Raap came up with a huge play and blocked the field-goal attempt.

The Lions couldn’t capitalize. On fourth-and-5 at its own 21, St. Viator came up short when it only was able to gain three yards.

The Warriors went backward on a tackle for loss and motion penalty, but Head blasted a 46-yard field goal with 3:54 left to put the game away.

“It takes a lot to get to this point,” coach Johanik said. “We still have a way to go. I don’t blame anyone for not believing in us. This is one of those games that puts us on the map.”

It was a great run by St. Viator, which needed a win in the final week of the season to make the playoffs. The Lions upended Richmond-Burton in the first round, but have never won two playoff games in the same season.

St. Viator coach Dave Archibald said it was a successful season despite the Nov. 3 loss.

“You have to execute at a high level and this was not our best night,” Archibald said. “We started 16 underclassmen and fought through our schedule to get here. I am so proud of them for that.”