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Joliet Catholic’s prolific offense has Hilltoppers back playing for a state title

Richmond-Burton threw everything it had at Joliet Catholic in the first half, held the ball for about 20 minutes and owned a three-point halftime lead.

The Hilltoppers fumbled on their last possession of the half on R-B’s 2-yard line, which the Rockets recovered in the end zone.

But two plays into the second half, everything felt better on the Joliet Catholic sideline. Running back Vinny Iannantone raced 64 yards for a touchdown, and the Hilltoppers never trailed again, imposing their will with their outstanding running game for four second-half touchdowns and a 35-18 Class 4A semifinal road victory Saturday.

Joliet Catholic (13-0) advanced to the Class 4A state title game at 7 p.m. Friday at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (12-1). The Hilltoppers have a chance to win their state-best 14th state championship.

“We just needed to finish,” Joliet Catholic quarterback Aidan Voss said. “Vinny had a turnover, and then he came back with that big run. We knew they couldn’t stop us on offense. We got the ball in the second half and executed.”

Hilltoppers coach Jake Jaworski thought the start of the second half was crucial.

“You worry about if we didn’t go down and score, them killing the clock again,” Jaworski said. “We wanted to get the lead and force them to play from behind and get them out of their comfort zone. We were able to do that.”

Iannantone finished with 119 rushing yards, while Illinois-bound Jordan Anderson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) rushed for 123 and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“It was a tough game,” defensive end Jeremy Johnson said. “Our offense and defense came through. We were down, but we came back like we did against Brother Rice.”

The Hilltoppers have wins over Brother Rice, a Class 7A semifinalist, and Crete-Monee, a 6A semifinalist.

They now get a chance to complete an unbeaten season right where many people expected them to be all year.

“Our guys come to battle each and every day to practice, come from behind in games, they’re just built different,” Jaworski said. “I’m really proud of them and happy they get this opportunity next week.”

Joliet Catholic won the 2018 Class 5A state title and now has a shot at two championships in three postseasons.

“I’m just excited. We’re ready,” Voss said. “We want to win state.”