CHAMPAIGN – Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp called timeout with 4:44 remaining in Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game so one of his favorite players in the program’s 26-year history could receive one final ovation.
Quarterback Tyler Vasey, who was harassed and banged on all day by East St. Louis, walked over and hugged Schremp at the 20-yard line of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium’s east sideline while the crowd paid tribute.
Vasey’s IHSA-record rushing season, pushed to 3,883 yards, was a major factor in the Wolves reaching the state final for the fifth time in school history.
“I saw his competitive nature this year, that’s what got us here,” Schremp said. “If we don’t have Tyler out there as our quarterback, we’re not even close. Part of the reason, at the end, I wanted Tyler to get a walk-off there. He deserved that. He deserved that round of applause. None of those people in the stands would have been here and enjoyed everything they enjoyed.”
Prairie Ridge was no match for East St. Louis, losing 57-7, which is the biggest loss in school history.
What mattered most though, was that the Wolves were there. Schremp said they maximized their potential as well as any Prairie Ridge team ever had.
“(That moment) was special,” Vasey said. “Coach Schremp and I are really close.”
Vasey ran 25 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, to cap the game’s first drive, to add to his IHSA record. He had a long run of 32 yards, but for the most part had nowhere to run against the talented Flyers, who were 12-2 and loaded with NCAA Division I players.
Prairie Ridge (12-2) had not had an opponent produce a running clock on it since 2003, a Week 5 loss to McHenry (48-7). That hardly took away from the Wolves’ run.
“I don’t think about it that way,” Schremp said. “For these guys to win second in state is unbelievable. I never would have believed these guys in the summer would have gotten this far. I don’t care what the score is.
“We came out, we worked hard, we did our best, and they were a better team. There’s nothing you can do. That team’s a different level than we are. What are you going to do? The coin toss was almost comical if you saw the size difference. You can’t match up with that. I don’t think that team loses to too many other teams from Illinois. Pound-for-pound, that is the best assembly of athletes in Illinois football. We did our best.”
Schremp marveled at where his team was in the summer and where it ended up. He said he had no idea last summer the Wolves would play for a state title.
“We did our job every week and it showed in the success we had,” defensive back Dom Creatore said. “Today, we just got outsized.”
East St. Louis’ offensive line has four seniors who weighed at 300 pounds. The Flyers’ offense was able to do whatever it wanted to run away with the championship.
Prairie Ridge’s offensive line of John Fallaw, Ethan Goudschaal, Henrik Nystrom, Angel Rodriguez and Zach Helland, along with tight ends Landon Miller and Braedon Hatter, paved the way for Vasey’s incredible season.
The Wolves shared the Fox Valley Conference title with Huntley and Jacobs, then made the 6A title game for the fourth time in six years.
“We just did what the coaches told us, showed up to every practice and focused on that day,” Fallaw said. “Not looking forward, just one week at a time.”
And what does Fallaw think of his coach’s praising the Wolves for getting the most out of what they had?
“It’s hard to think about right now after that,” Fallaw said. “But yeah, it’s cool to be a part of.”
Schremp will try to forget about the score and remember Prairie Ridge’s magical ride and memories like watching the children of offensive coordinator Joe Terhaar and defensive coordinator Andy Petersen playing with players in the team’s hotel.
And he kept coming back to Vasey’s ability, and his character.
“That was one of the things that was tough about this game,” said Schremp, his voice cracking as he hugged his quarterback one more time. “It’s the last time you coach a guy like this. You don’t get too many Tyler Vaseys, who is a good athlete, but also one of the best kids I’ve ever coached.”