Joliet Catholic, Montini set for another heavyweight battle

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If you like rivalries or offense, Lombard is the place to be on Saturday afternoon.

That’s when Joliet Catholic and host Montini collide, one unstoppable object meeting another head-on in what could be the football game of the year not just in Class 5A but anywhere else.

The history alone merits giving this game a long look: Joliet Catholic has captured more state titles (13) than any other program, while Montini has the longest current run of titles (four).

Add to the mix the fact that these programs have played three epic games in the past four seasons, all won by Montini: 29-28 in the 2009 5A final on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 32 seconds left, 70-45 in the 2011 title game and 40-37 in last year’s semifinals on a touchdown with 30.8 seconds remaining.

The anticipation for Round 4 in this battle of heavyweights has been building all season and is reaching a fever pitch as the clock ticks down to the 1 p.m. kickoff.

“It’s been a crazy atmosphere at school and in the community,” said senior Mike Ivlow, the latest in a long run of star tailbacks at Joliet Catholic.

Ivlow’s heard that 400 to 500 JCA students have signed up for fan busses, and who knows how many more will be making the trek on their own?

Montini will represent too, no doubt, as the school tries to continue what has been a remarkable run in a class that’s been chock-full of good teams year in and year out.

“It’s always for the biggest prize,” said 35th-year Broncos coach Chris Andriano of the Joliet Catholic matchup. “When you have that much at stake, it turns into that kind of a game. They’re close games, classic games.”

Probably none more so than that 2011 final, which produced — wait for it — 1,644 yards of total offense and two punts. Up and down the Memorial Stadium turf the teams marched, scoring seemingly at will.

Montini did it mostly through the air, as quarterback John Rhode threw for 587 yards and seven touchdowns while receiver Jordan Westerkamp had 12 catches for 353 yards and five scores.

Joliet Catholic leaned hard on Ty Isaac, who had 26 carries for 515 yards and six scores — five of them longer than 55 yards.

Ivlow, then a sophomore at Minooka (he transferred to Joliet Catholic the next season), didn’t see that game live because he was on the bus heading to Champaign with the Bolingbrook team coached by his dad John.

“Joliet Catholic didn’t have an answer for it,” Ivlow said of that edition of Montini’s high-octane offense.

Obviously he’s hoping that changes on Saturday as is the rest of Hilltopper Nation.

“It’s not fun being on the losing side all the time,” Ivlow said.

That’s something Andriano can understand. Montini won its first title in 2004, in its 15th playoff appearance.

“There were a lot of heartbreaks before this came our way,” he said. “We had a lot of quarterfinal and semifinal losses. We didn’t know if we’d ever get to a state championship game.”

But they did and now it’s become an annual occurrence. Before Montini can think about state, though, it has to gear up the latest renewal of this rivalry. It could be a bit different from some of the recent games.

While Ivlow has emerged as one of the state’s premier runners (2,140 yards, 9.6 per carry, 25 TDs), the Joliet Catholic defense has shown marked improvement over recent seasons. Since a 42-35 win over Providence in Week 1, the Hilltoppers have been allowing just 12.4 points a game.

And Montini, which again has a potent passing attack led by quarterback Alex Wills, has been even stingier. With Ohio State-bound Dylan Thompson and Nile Sykes leading the way, the Broncos have held eight teams to seven points or fewer.

The talent on the field could be matched by that in the stands. “A lot of big-time recruits got knocked out [so] they’ll be at the game,” Ivlow said.

Chances are they’ll see quite a show.

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