Class 5A playoffs: St. Francis finds its rhythm, ousts Morgan Park

Spartans make return trip to semifinals

St. Francis' Alessio Milivojevic (11) carries the ball on a keeper against Morgan Park during a class 5A state quarterfinal football game at St. Francis High School in Wheaton on Saturday, Nov 11, 2023.

WHEATON — Despite holding an early lead over Morgan Park in a Class 5A semifinal game on Saturday afternoon, pretty much everyone involved with St. Francis would admit something wasn’t quite clicking for the Spartans.

But for Spartans standout quarterback Alessio Milivojevic, that wake-up call came late in the second quarter when he got popped pretty good by a pair of Morgan Park defenders, bounced off both and went in for a 13-yard touchdown.

“To be honest, I was telling my coach that I like to get hit once or twice after a run and then I’m locked in,” Milivojevic said. “And then it all clicked in.”

St. Francis (10-2) built a two-score lead after that touchdown run and put things on cruise control from there collecting a 37-14 over Morgan Park to earn its second consecutive semifinal playoff appearance. Last season, the Spartans fell to Providence in the Class 4Asemifinals.

Neither team was really able to get its footing early. Persistent penalties seemed to take both teams out of their rhythm.

The Spartans were able to get a pair of touchdowns before the first quarter capped. Ian Willis scored on a 3-yard pass reception from Milivojevic and Tyvonn Ransom took off on a 35-yard sprint and score that pushed the Spartans out to a 13-0 lead.

Morgan Park (10-2) tried to fight back. The Mustangs closed the gap to 13-8 on a 40-yard touchdown from Marcus Thaxton to Chris Durr, but Morgan Park seemed to spend the rest of the game taking a step forward to only take two steps back moments later, largely due to penalties.

A particularly devastating penalty for Morgan Park came when it appeared a St. Francis drive had come to an end with a Morgan Park interception that was run back for a score. But an interference penalty wiped away the interception and the points and just before half. Cooper Winslow closed the first half with a 23-yard field goal that sent the Spartans into the locker room with a 22-8 lead.

Milivojevic threw another touchdown pass to start the second half, this time to Zachary Washington as the Spartans finally started to show a little bit more comfort and confidence.

“First half, and like the first quarter or two there were a lot of flags and a lot of blitzing going on out there. They were showing different coverages and different defenses, different fronts, and they were doing a good job of disguising coverages,” Milivojevic said. “Once we settled down, and I think we did in the second half we did a nice job.”

The Spartans will now head into next weekend’s semifinal round where they will face Nazareth, a 21-17 winner over Carmel in its quarterfinal game. St. Francis beat Nazareth 35-17 in a Week 9 regular-season matchup and proved it can take out the postseason behemoth in a second meeting, St. Francis would be heading to a state championship game for the second time in school history.

Milivojevic believes his team still hasn’t played its best game.

“I think we knew we were good all along, but we didn’t really know how good we could be. Week in and week out we still haven’t played four quarters,” Milivojevic said. “I think today we were close but I think we still have another step to us.”

St. Francis coach Bob McMillen was unavailable for comment after the game having departed early to attend his daughter’s game at the IHSA State Volleyball Tournament. St. Francis played Lincoln for the Class 3A State Tournament title on Saturday night.