IHSA Class 5A playoffs: Providence Catholic dispatches Highland, to face JCA in semis

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NEW LENOX – The first three Providence Catholic possessions against Highland on Saturday told the story: A long drive, albeit ending in a missed field-goal attempt, and two touchdowns on drives triggered by Bulldog turnovers. The Celtics would control the clock and the score, never mind the lofty third seed bestowed on Highland.

Fifteenth-seeded Providence’s 21-0 victory in the 5A quarterfinal over the visitors from four hours downstate was almost academic. It improved the Celtics’ record to 8-4, ended Highland’s season at 10-2, and in conjunction with the activity in Morris, set up a rematch next week with Joliet Catholic Academy (9-3).

That was foremost on the minds of the Celtics after the game. It will be so until next week’s kickoff, with the same mindset a few miles away on JCA’s Larkin Ave. campus.

“It’s a revenge game, but it’s not a toxic revenge game,” said senior Justus Snapp, who spent his first two years of high school at Joliet Catholic and thus has seen this rivalry from both sides. “I love those guys over there. They’re still my guys. I’m excited to show them what I can do as a running back.”

Joliet Catholic, whom Providence vanquished in last year’s 5A Round of 16, won this year’s first meeting 19-0. A lot of football has been played since.

“We’re gonna stomp ‘em,” said junior Danny Jones, who made a bunch of big plays on defense. “They stomped us, but our offense is revamped, our defense is revamped. As long as we keep getting better.”

Said Jamari Tribett of the rematch with the Hilltoppers, “The first time we went to the game kinda blindsided. I wouldn’t say anything was missing. We were just putting the pieces to the puzzle together.

“I feel we’re better as a team and can take ‘em now. We’re just going to move forward and make it to state.”

All eight of Tribett’s carries for 42 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run, came in the first half, when the Celtics enjoyed a 267-108 yardage advantage. It was 367-249 at game’s end.

Snapp’s 90-yard receiving touchdown, of which about 89 were due to his fleet feet, was the game’s big play. It not only put Providence up 14-0 with 13 seconds left in the first quarter, it broke Highland’s spirit.

“Man, it was a low pass, and I was scared,” Snapp said. “But as soon as I made that first cut, and somebody hit me on it, and I stayed on my feet. Then I knew it was a foot race. I just had to go.”

He went, blazing down the right-hand sideline, past the Highland bench, past the Highland crowd, and past every last Bulldog for the longest play of his career.

Providence quarterback Leo Slepski had opened the scoring with a 1-yard plunge after hitting Mitch Voltz on a 23-yard third-down pass. Tyler Cucio’s fumble recovery set that drive up. Gavin Hagan’s interception set up the drive Snapp scored on.

“I saw the guy breaking to the post and the ball was up there – up there for a while,” Hagan said. “It looked like a punt. I just dove and made a play on the ball.”

Like the others, Hagan is champing at the bit to play the Hilltoppers again.

“I wanted to play ‘em right after we lost in the second week of the season,” Hagan said. “I can’t wait.”

He has company in that regard.