Among Montini’s many assets is strong-legged place-kicker Andrew Harte.
The Broncos had driven into position to tie Joliet Catholic in the final minute. They were facing a fourth-and-2 at the Hilltoppers’ 17-yard line.
However, when you are in pursuit of a fourth consecutive state championship and you have senior Joe Borsellino on your side, you believe.
Borsellino took the snap in Montini’s spread formation and followed senior running back Dmitri Taylor up the middle for a six-yard gain to the 11. Taylor gained 10 on the next play and Borsellino sneaked in with 30.8 seconds remaining to give the Broncos a 40-37 victory Saturday afternoon in a classic Class 5A semifinal at ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
“We call the play a 14-follow, and D.T. (Taylor) looked at me and said, ‘Follow my (butt) to state,’ ” Borsellino said of the key fourth-and-2 conversion. “We knew we could pick it up. Montini is all about going for the win.”
“We were going to the for the win, there was no other way,” Montini coach Chris Andriano said. “We did not come here to play overtime. We came here to win.
“Besides, both teams were completely exhausted.”
It was that kind of a semifinal.
Much like the 2011 5A championship game, when No. 15 Montini beat No. 19 Joliet Catholic 70-45, the Broncos (11-2) had little luck containing Joliet Catholic senior wingback Ty Isaac. He rushed for 277 yards in 30 carries, scored three touchdowns and became the school’s career rushing leader with 5,315 yards, surpassing the 5,070 of J.R. Zwierzynski.
That means Isaac ran for 792 yards and scored nine touchdowns in two meetings with Montini in the last 12 months, yet both efforts were in defeat.
Joliet Catholic (8-5), which had a 528-440 advantage in total yards as wingback Tyler Reitz rushed for 123, scored on every one of its possessions of the first half, except for when it ran out the clock in the final minute. The Hilltoppers upped a 28-14 halftime lead to 31-14 midway through the third quarter when Brian Bravo kicked a 33-yard field goal. But Montini was far from finished.
Borsellino, who scored three second-half touchdowns, climaxed a touchdown drive, catching a six-yard pass from Alex Wills to make it 31-21 and setting the stage for the Montini defense.
Joliet Catholic was at its 45 with a fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter when coach Dan Sharp decided to go for the first down. Isaac wanted the ball and got it, but he was met by Joe Nitti, Nicholas Sanzeri and Dylan Thompson for a yard loss.
“It was the way this game was going,” Sharp explained. “We had confidence we would get the first down. Even if we punted there, I don’t know if 40 more yards would have mattered. We couldn’t stop them in the second half.”
Four plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Borsellino scored from nine yards out to make it 31-27.
On Joliet Catholic’s next possession, after two first downs, Thompson forced an Isaac fumble that Montini’s Charles Long recovered at the Montini 44. On the next play, Wills hit Taylor on a bubble screen that he turned into a 56-yard touchdown up the right sideline to put Montini ahead 34-31. Taylor rushed for 157 yards, caught three passes for 63 and scored three times.
“Playing against Ty Isaac only motivated me,” Taylor said. “He’s great. I just wanted to show, in my eyes, who’s better.”
Joliet Catholic responded, driving to a 22-yard Isaac touchdown run with 4:41 left for a 37-34 lead. That, however, left too much time for a Montini offense that scored on every possession of the second half.
The Hilltoppers tried to move the ball in the final half-minute behind quarterback Craig Slowik (8-of-12 passing for 114 yards), but their season ended at the Montini 43-yard line.