There was an abundance of euphoria and Public League pride shown Saturday night at Gately Stadium after fans braved the cold to watch Phillips advance to the semifinals of the state 4A playoffs with a 14-13 victory over Rockford Lutheran.
It was a history making event as Phillips joined Simeon as two teams advanced to the semifinals from the Public League for the first time in state history.
The Wildcats (11-1) tried to deliver two knock out punches to the visitors in the first quarter when All-City quarterback Dewayne Collins connected with All-City receiver Quayvon Skanes on a 33-yard touchdown pass with 8:56 remaining in the first quarter capping a ten-play 80-yard drive. Collins engineered another long drive going 78 yards in six plays and scoring on a 14-yard run with 5:30 remaining in the first quarter to give Phillips a 14-0 lead. Kicker Aaron Clayton made both PAT kicks.
The Crusaders finally got things going in the second quarter and cut the lead in half on a 35-yard touchdown reception to Marcus Hayes from quarterback Jailen Horton. A costly fumble late in the fourth quarter threatened to derail Phillips. The Crusaders converted a fourth-and-goal from the 16-yard line with 1:27 remaining on a touchdown pass from Horton to Austin Sikora. The PAT attempt was missed allowing Phillips to hold on to a 14-13 lead.
On the ensuing kick off, Rockford Lutheran’s onside kick recovery was nullified, forcing a re-kick that the Wildcats recovered.
Phillips coach Troy McAllister said the first quarter was the life saver for his team. “We got off to a great start and hung on against a great team,” McAllister said. “I knew it was going to come down to turnovers and special teams. The irony of the game was that we made some costly turnovers that we don’t usually make and they made some errors on special teams that they don’t usually make.”
Phillips’ defense rose to the occasion, stopping the Crusaders high-powered offense that had been ringing up 55 points per game and boast one of the best running backs in the state, James Robinson, limiting the talented junior to 42 yards.
The defense was anchored by All-City defensive standouts Chris Elmore (two sacks, seven tackles) and All-City linebacker Amani Jones (eight tackles). Linebacker Marquise Kelly played a pivotal role on defense with a team-high nine tackles and two sacks. Elmore said they knew what they were up against.
“We knew they had a high-powered offense and we couldn’t take any plays off,” Elmore said. “I don’t know whether I’m more happy than tired.”
After the game Rockford coach Bruce Bazsali tried to console his players, among them his All-Conference kicker Adam Pearson. “This is a great group of kids that I love so much,” Bazsali. “We win as a team and we will accept this loss as a team. We had our chances. It just wasn’t meant to be, but I love everybody in this locker room.”