Already solidly in the Class 8A playoffs, Waubonsie Valley was matched almost score for score in the first half by South Elgin.
But Waubonsie’s rushing offense and the Warrior defense finally were able to control the determined Storm in the second half to win going away 59-29.
The win allowed the Warriors (8-1, 6-1) to also claim at least a share of the Upstate Eight Valley championship, and sent South Elgin (5-4, 4-3) to wait for news on a possible playoff berth.
With 7:34 remaining until the half, the Storm trailed only 28-21 after Kenton Bradley grabbed a Warrior fumble out of the air and rumbled 13 yards for a score.
“We rushed them, and one of my partners hit the ball and it went flying. It came down in my hands and the next thing you know, I’m rushing to the end zone scoring for our team,” Bradley said.
South Elgin’s other early scores came on a 60-yard pass from Hayden Nelson to Derek Kumerow and a 24-yard run by Shawn Griffin. Kumerow totaled 101 yards receiving in the half on just two catches.
“We knew we had to get on them early, and the aerial attack was open in the first half,” Kumerow said. “They are a good team and started to adapt and covered our deep balls more and more.”
Waubonsie’s first quarter scores came on TD runs of 34 and nine yards by Tony Durns (eight carries, 67 yards), and a 35-yard TD pass from Zack Bennema to Justin Rich.
Max Ihry had a 76-yard TD on a kickoff return, and the Bennema-to-Rich connection clicked again from 29 yards as the Warriors took a 35-21 lead into the half.
“We knew they were going to score, so we had to equalize,” Rich said. “They played hard and we did our best to play hard, too.”
The Warrior defense stiffened and allowed only two first downs in the third quarter. Jordan Mellecker booted a 34-yard field goal at the 8:17 mark, Bennema followed with a 16-yard scoring run, and then found Keaton Casey from 30 yards to stretch the lead to 52-21.
Waubonsie’s rushing after intermission was a key, and was led by Rodney Gee’s 71 yards on 10 carries.
“Coach (Paul Murphy) always tells us to play 48 minutes of hard football, and we did it,” Gee said. “We run the ball which opens up the passing game, and it worked. It was tough, but we have to keep our minds in the game.”
“We took care of business and finished,” Murphy said. “We haven’t had a championship since 2010. We have to play solid Warrior football. Our offense did a great job, and the defense adjusted and played a great second half.”