Clayton Thorson didn’t get a chance to play in the IHSA quarterfinals last season.
For a while Saturday, it looked like he wouldn’t do so this year either.
But then the Wheaton North quarterback and his favorite receiver, Matt Biegalski, started connecting. By the time they were done, the Falcons had stormed back from a 25-point deficit to edge Fenwick 32-31 in a Class 7A second-round game.
For his big day — 29 of 48 passing for 385 yards and five touchdowns — Thorson is the Sun-Times Athlete of the Week. More importantly, he’s headed to the quarterfinals, where Wheaton North will host Lake Zurich Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Falcons were in the quarters last year, losing 3-0 in the mud to eventual 7A champ Glenbard West. But Thorson missed that game after breaking his collarbone the week before against Prospect. So no surprise that he was caught in a wave of emotion after the comeback against Fenwick.
“Everybody was going crazy,” Thorson said. “I think it kind of set in [that] we have another week of football. … Everybody was so excited this thing was not going to be over.”
It’s not over in large part because of Thorson and Biegalski, who caught 14 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns.
“Obviously, as a lot of people saw on Saturday, it’s going really well,” Thorson said of his connection with his No. 1 target. “He committed to Illinois State last week; I think that was a big weight off his shoulders.”
Of course, one player can’t engineer a comeback like that by himself — even a Big Ten recruit like Thorson, who’s headed to Northwestern.
“He had a great second half, no doubt about it,” Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said of Thorson. “The kids caught the ball well for him, too. He didn’t throw everything perfectly.”
But Thorson, a 6-4, 197-pounder, is clearly locked in this season. And on Saturday, the Falcons’ offense seemed to perk up with a switch to a quicker tempo.
“We’ve been trying to go with a hurry-up offense the whole year,” Thorson said. “Sometimes it goes a little slower when we’re trying to get into a groove.”
One thing that has changed for Thorson is that he’s a full-time quarterback this season after sharing time there and at wide receiver last season with then-senior John Peltz.
“He enjoys just being the quarterback and not having to play another position,” said Wardynski, who emphasized that both players made what could have been an awkward situation go smoothly.
“He and John were friends on top of being teammates,” Wardynski said. “[Thorson] was a very good receiver, too. He excelled there. Our offense took a step back when he came off the field as a receiver [after the injury].”
But Thorson is looking forward, not back. And he appreciates the chance to keep playing when a lot of other people are turning in their equipment.
“I’m really good friends with [Glenbard North’s] Justin Jackson,” Thorson said. “It’s definitely sad to see him go down. As a future teammate [at Northwestern], I would have loved to have seen him break the [state rushing] record.”
Thorson feels the same way about his crosstown rivals at Wheaton Warrenville South, eliminated by Downers Grove North on Friday after losing two standout running backs to injury.
“Everyone on Wheaton North grew up playing youth football with them,” he said. “It was sad to see their season end the way it did.”
Thanks to Thorson, Biegalski and company, though, there was no sadness last week for the Falcons.