Winning state titles is not easy.
Both of the programs involved in the Class 2A final have done it. Tri-Valley was the most recent victor of the two as the Vikings ran the table to win the title in 2015.
The quest to get back has been a gradual progression. The Vikings couldn’t get past the second round for three years after the title win and then after a quarterfinal run in 2018, Tri-Valley didn’t even make the playoffs in 2019. The 2021 season found an almost complete reversal though as the Vikings pushed into the semifinals before bowing out.
St. Teresa has seemingly been in the conversation to win a state title for much of the last decade but the semifinals had become a hurdle that was difficult for the program to clear. It had dropped the last three semifinal contests it was in (2018, 2020, 2021) prior to this season.
St. Teresa has also climbed to the top of the mountain, but it hasn’t happened since 1979.
Here’s a closer look at the two teams squaring off in the Class 2A title game.
Head coach: Josh Roop
Last State Title Game Appearance: 2015, Won 41-8 over Auburn
Path to state
• defeated Clifton Central, 44-0
• defeated Wilmington, 28-21
• defeated Knoxville, 46-22
• defeated Maroa-Forsyth, 36-6
Blake Regenold, RB/LB: There aren’t many more productive running backs in the state of Illinois. The power back has taken his game to a much higher level in the postseason, rushing for a Class 2A state playoff record 417 yards in the quarterfinal round against Knoxville.
T.J. Klein, DT: If an opponent doesn’t pay proper attention to Klein he’ll likely blow up anything they try to do. With 17 tackles for loss, Klein is usually responsible for causing havoc on anything that tries to make hay in the middle of the field.
Andy Knox, QB/DB: Knox’s passing numbers are not eye-popping, but they are more than adequate to keep opponents honest. But what Cox can do is use his feet to keep the chains moving if people over compensate in trying to stop Regenold. He broke two 50-plus yard touchdown runs in the second round against Wilmington.
• Tri-Valley has scored 340 points in the first half while allowing just 79 to foes.
• The Vikings have rushed for just under 4,000 yards on the season, but pass enough for not to allow opponents to key on stopping it.
• Tri-Valley’s defensive unit has been holding top opponents in check all season as four of the six games where opponents were held to a touchdown or less were against teams that made the playoff field.
Momentum is a hard thing to characterize but the Vikings found a ton of it when it upended defending state champions at Wilmington in round two. They have now rode the wave to convincing wins over Knoxville and Maroa-Forsyth and are playing as good of football as it could hope to at this time of year.
Decatur St. Teresa (13-0)
Head coach: Mark Ramsey (335-110, 40 years)
Last State Title Game Appearance: 2016, Lost 35-7 to Forreston
Path to state
• defeated Chester, 49-0
• defeated Athens, 59-33
• defeated Pana, 37-12
• defeated Johnston City, 39-15
Royce Harper, RB/LB: Harper is fulfilling a long lineage of outstanding running backs most recently a role filled by standouts Denim Cook and Jacardia Wright. Harper is also doing what those backs tended to do, break off huge gains on most carries. Harper is averaging over 11 yards per carry and is scoring a touchdown at the rate of about one score every six carries.
Amare Wallace, WR/DB: Wallace lowers the boom from the secondary and has racked up a team high 102 tackles. He also doesn’t hesitate to attack the backfield and has netted 11 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
Jaccarion Jones, FB/LB: Jones can be an absolute load to try to deal with when he’s given the football as at 5-foot-9, 253-pounder can deliver more punishment than he’s likely to accept. He’s piled up nearly 750 rushing yards on barely over 100 carries.
• Opponents actually rushed for more yards than St. Teresa did on the season, but there’s a pretty substantial difference in passing numbers in St. Teresa’s favor and an opportunistic secondary has picked off 13 passes this year.
• 18 of St. Teresa’s expected 22 starters are seniors, although seven positions on both sides of the ball are manned by two-way performers.
• Aside from an 18-0 win over Effingham in the season opener, St. Teresa has scored at least 37 points in every other game this season.
St. Teresa finally broke through the wall of the semifinals having lost in that round in each of the last three playoff contested seasons, losing twice to Nashville. Although the Bulldogs are routinely in the discussion for a team that could possibly capture a state championship they haven’t actually sealed the deal since a win in the 1979 Class 2A title.