IHSA 8A playoffs: Luke Mailander, York race past Edwardsville, into semifinals

Luke Mailander

ELMHURST – Luke Mailander watched the clock tick down from the sidelines inside the final minute and said to himself, “No way it ends like this.”

After dominating much of the second half, Mailander saw Edwardsville drive down the field on the game’s final possession to get as close as the York 15-yard line in a one-score game.

“I have all the confidence in my defense, but you just never know down there,” Mailander added.

York forced an incomplete pass on fourth down as the Dukes held off Edwardsville 36-29 in the Class 8A quarterfinals Saturday afternoon.

Mailander wasn’t focused on personal accolades, but the final kneeldown sealing the victory for York (11-1) allowed him to appreciate his 10 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s a connection that [quarterback Sean Winton] and I have been developing since the offseason,” Mailander said. “He trusts me and there were some instances where I didn’t feel like I was open, but he trusted me to throw it and give me a chance.”

Winton completed 9 of his 10 pass attempts in the first half, but the lone mistake was an interception by Edwardsville linebacker Jaiden Vonner that was returned 32 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

There wasn’t a specific message sent or a specific play that turned the tide, but an overall belief from York that allowed it to gain momentum back before halftime. The Dukes scored 29 unanswered points, including touchdowns on each side of halftime from Mailander – the latter of which gave the Dukes the lead at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter – a lead they never relinquished.

“It just shows you the heart and belief these kids have,” York coach Mike Fitzgerald said. “It’s a collective group belief. We talk about being right here, right now and if adversity hits, just stay in the moment. Football is a game of momentum, and we were able to grab it back and it’s a testament to this group. They’re really special.”

Mailander’s standout night wasn’t to take away form the boost York got form running back Jake Melion, whose 36 carries for 160 yards broke the school record for rushing yards in a single season. Melion scored three touchdowns on the ground in Saturday’s victory showing just how diverse of an offense York can have when clicking on all cylinders.

Winton completed 12 of his 15 pass attempts after the interception, finishing with 248 yards through the air.

Edwardsville (10-2) wasn’t going to go quietly. A quick, 42-yard strike from quarterback Jake Curry (266 passing yards, two TDs) to Luke Weaver got the Tigers back within seven after a successful 2-point conversion with 5:57 to go.

A quick punt by the Dukes gave Edwardsville its final chance, working its way down the field until it stalled against Jack Trautman and the relentless York defense. Weaver’s touchdown for Edwardsville was the first pass the Tigers completed in the second half.

“I know it seems like it’s the defensive line, but it’s not just us,” said Trautman, who had three sacks and several other quarterback pressures in the win. “It’s [our linebackers and our defensive backs] all in coverage. We’re not getting sacks or pressures if guys are open, so it’s really all of us out there.

“We were all exhausted on that last drive, but I knew we were the better team. It all came down to that final play and we gave it everything we had, and it paid off.”

York will head on the road in the semifinals next weekend against defending 8A state champion and No. 1 seeded Loyola (12-0), who dismantled St. Ignatius 41-7 Saturday in its quarterfinal matchup.