Marian Central was unable to make the playoffs, but the Hurricanes went down swinging.
As they took on eventual Class 4A semifinalist Wheaton Academy in Week 9, quarterback Cale McThenia and wide receiver Christian Bentancur connected 21 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
It wasn’t enough, as Marian fell short 43-33, dropping to 4-5 and missing the Class 2A playoffs, where no team would have wanted to see its vaunted passing attack. But it left Bentancur, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior headed to Clemson, with 231 career receptions for No. 5 on the IHSA list and one of only 11 players to reach 200 catches.
Bentancur finished the season with 92 receptions for 1,345 yards and 21 touchdowns, all area-bests and the most productive season ever for an area receiver. The Hurricanes’ star is the 2023 Northwest Herald Football Player of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Cary-Grove’s electrifying running back Andrew Prio and Prairie Ridge’s do-it-all, running back-defensive back Dom Creatore also were considered for the honor, but Bentancur’s numbers were too staggering.
Bentancur announced Clemson as his college choice in January and will sign his National Letter of Intent with the Tigers on Dec. 20. He ends his career, which had the abbreviated 2021 spring COVID-19 season as his freshman year, second on the IHSA career list in receiving yards (3,867) and third in touchdown catches (51).
The 21 receptions for Bentancur also is the third most in state history for a single game, behind Riverside-Brookfield’s Mark McDonagh (25 in 2009) and Mowequa Central A&M’s Keaton Garner (24 in 2016).
By staying in high school instead of leaving after the first semester of his senior year, Bentancur has a chance to become the first athlete in IHSA history with 200 career receptions in football and 2,000 points in basketball. He started the basketball season with 1,459 points.
Bentancur, who will play tight end at Clemson, answered a few questions from Northwest Herald sports writer Joe Stevenson about his remarkable career and final season.
What will you remember most about this season?
Bentancur: I’ll remember most the feeling playing under the lights with the entire town cheering.
How would you assess the season you and your team had?
Bentancur: We were so close to being great.
What was something that happened on the field this season that made you laugh?
Bentancur: Watching one of our linemen, Reese Eckstein, run with the ball in the game. It was a designed play.
If you could have celebrated touchdowns in high school without a penalty, what would you have choreographed with your teammates?
Bentancur: We definitely would’ve done the photo-shoot, red-carpet celebration.
Who are some of your favorite former or current Clemson players?
Bentancur: Davis Allen, Trevor Lawrence and Tee Higgins.
A lot of NCAA Division I players going to big-time programs leave high school early. Why are you staying?
Bentancur: I’m staying to enjoy my senior year, because high school is a once in a lifetime experience that I want to finish with all of my friends.
What are three of your favorite Christmas movies?
Bentancur: “Home Alone,” “Christmas Vacation” and “The Polar Express.”
What sport that you don’t play would you be good at?
Bentancur: If golf was not during the fall, I’d be tearing it up on the golf courses.
Who is one of your teammates who really inspires you?
Bentancur: I can’t pick one, but all of my teammates improved, which inspired me to be at my best.
Do you know the words to Clemson’s fight song?
Bentancur: I do not, but I am in the process of learning it.
What is your favorite wild animal?
Bentancur: Tiger, the real king of the jungle.
What was your favorite Disney movie when you were a kid?
Bentancur: “National Treasure” is the best movie that Disney has ever made.
If you could have dinner with three people from history, who would you pick?
Bentancur: Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln and Kobe Bryant.
What musical would you most like to see live?
Bentancur: “The Lion King.”
What scares you?