Cary-Grove cruises into Class 6A semifinals
Cary-Grove's Ben Hurt-Haller has been itching to make a big play all season.
Unable to stay healthy and on the field over the past two seasons, the Trojans senior came through with one of the biggest plays during Saturday's Class 6A quarterfinal against Crystal Lake Central.
After C-G's defense forced a three-and-out on Central's opening possession, Hurt-Haller blew past the Tigers' blockers, stretched out and blocked the punt of Myles Stanger. The ball stayed on the ground long enough for Hurt-Haller to pick it up and run 10 yards the other way for a touchdown.
The top-seeded Trojans went on to score the first 42 points and rolled to a 42-21 victory over No. 12-seeded Central, putting C-G a win away from its sixth state championship appearance. The Trojans have reached the semifinals seven times since 2004, winning state titles in 2009 and 2018.
"This week in practice, one of our [defensive] coaches comes up to me. He's like, 'Hey, you're going to make a big play for us,' " Hurt-Haller said. "It was a blitz call, I see it in front of me, I get the edge and it was awesome."
"Our coaches talk a lot about taking the momentum. That's exactly what we needed ... and we never let it go."
C-G (11-0) will host No. 6-seeded Lake Forest (10-2) in the semifinals at Al Bohrer Field next week after Lake Forest stunned Prairie Ridge, 22-21, in the final seconds. The Trojans would have played on the road if Prairie Ridge had won.
Now, they get one more game at home before a possible road trip to state at NIU's Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
"It's always great to be back home," senior offensive lineman Niko Neckopulos said. "Family in the stands always makes it exciting for us, and we can't wait to get back and get right to work. It feels great to know you're so close, but right now we're going to take it one game at a time, focus on [Lake Forest], and see what happens from there."
C-G's offensive starters scored each time they touched the ball. After Hurt-Haller's score, fullback Nick Hissong had a 58-yard touchdown, knocking over a Tigers defender 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, to give the Trojans a 14-0 lead with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
Central (8-4) had a chance to answer Hissong's big play on its next possession. A 33-yard pass from Colton Madura to George Dimopoulos put the Tigers at C-G's 15-yard line. After a two-yard run, the Tigers fumbled the snap on the first play of the second quarter, giving the ball back to C-G.
The Trojans then drove 86 yards in less than three minutes, scoring on a 11-run by Hissong.
Drew Magel added a 11-yard touchdown with 17 seconds remaining before half for a 28-0 lead. C-G scored on a 1-yard run by quarterback Jameson Sheehan and a 28-yard pass from Sheehan to tight end Noah Riley for a 42-0 lead in the third.
Hissong led C-G with 127 yard rushing and two touchdowns, Magel had 104 yards and a score on five carries, and Sheehan (2-of-4 passing, 61 yards) had 62 yards rushing and a touchdown. Riley had two catches for 61 yards and one TD.
"Too many self-inflicted wounds from the start," Tigers coach Jon McLaughlin said. "They're an outstanding football team, and you just can't make mistakes against them. If you do, they exploit it. They're too talented and too good. For us to be able to move it, we had to be almost perfect and maybe hope that they make a couple of miscues along the way."
Central scored all of its points after the Trojans' starters left the game with a running clock.
Senior quarterback Colton Madura was 12-of-15 passing for 170 yards and found Jake Carnrite (two catches, 43 yards) for a 33-yard touchdown with 1:21 left in the fourth. Running back Brent Blitek had 97 yards on 13 carries, including a 31-yard TD in the fourth, and Jason Penza added a 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth.
Madura added 58 yards on the ground, while Dimopoulos had four catches for 69 yards.
The Tigers finished with their most wins since 2013 and made it to the quarterfinals for only the third time in school history.
"I'm really proud of our kids' effort," McLaughlin said. "The seniors set the bar high. Now let's see if it can go even higher. Cary-Grove, Prairie Ridge, the teams in our conference, they aren't going away. You just have to continue working and getting better."