Chris Tschida was in the stands for the 2011 opener, when Joliet Catholic pulled out a thrilling 32-31 victory over Carmel.
He watched the record-setting state championship game on television. You know, that incredible Class 5A final, in which Montini beat Joliet Catholic 70-45, in which the Hilltoppers’ Ty Isaac rushed for 515 yards and six touchdowns in a 25-point loss, in which the teams combined for more than 1,600 yards of offense.
On both occasions, “I regretted not playing last season,” said Tschida, who decided to concentrate on fall travel baseball instead. “Once I saw that first game, I assured myself I would be back this season.”
The senior tight end is back, all right. The All-East Suburban Catholic selection is one of the leading receivers in the area with 28 receptions and a 19.0 average, and he may be a key figure at 1 p.m. Saturday when Joliet Catholic entertains — who else? — Montini in the Class 5A semifinal at ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
Baseball has worked out well for Tschida, an All-State shortstop as a junior. He inked his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday with Western Illinois during the signing ceremony at Joliet Catholic.
But for now, football is front and center.
The question of whether Isaac will be in the Hilltoppers’ backfield Saturday has been answered. He will play, hopefully for the duration, but that is to be determined.
Isaac scored two touchdowns, one on a 92-yard run, in Saturday’s 21-20 overtime win over Lincoln-Way West. But he exited late in the third quarter after reinjuring his groin and did not return.
“I know he is a strong kid,” Tschida said of Isaac. “He wants to be out there.”
“Ty was very sore early this week, but he will play,” Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said.
In Isaac’s absence, “Mike Ivlow and Tyler Reitz stepped up, and Ben Hart came in at fullback and gave us tremendous blocks,” Sharp said.
The Hilltoppers will need all of that, and the passing game, with Craig Slowik targeting Tschida and Jordan Jones, must be a factor as well to keep up with high-scoring Montini, which also beat Joliet Catholic 29-28 in the 2009 5A championship game but dropped the ’10 opener to the Hilltoppers 21-7.
Coming off a second-round game where they survived a major scare against Sycamore, the Broncos ousted previously unbeaten Marian Central 42-27 in the quarterfinals. Mark Gorogianis, a wide receiver more often than not, rushed for 241 yards and five touchdowns on just eight carries.
Starting quarterback Alex Wills and multitalented Joe Borsellino also take snaps. All three often are in the game together, and until the Broncos are ready to run the next play, the defense may not know which one it will be.
Coach Chris Andriano’s team is nothing if not creative.
“Montini is very good, and on both sides of the ball,” Sharp said. “They have great size and great athletes. Borsellino is outstanding. The three guys they rotate at quarterback have different styles. It’s a difficult assignment for a defense.
“But our defense is playing better. The freshman defensive end (6-foot-3, 250-pound Ken Aguirre, who has been on the field in the playoffs) has really helped us. So has getting (linebacker Zach) Rezin healthy again and (cornerback) Grant Harrison having his cast off (after a broken right hand healed). Personnel-wise, we are where we need to be on defense.”
If you’re planning to attend Saturday’s game and expect Part II of last year’s historic championship game, prepare to be disappointed. There still could be significant fireworks, but neither side is the offensive machine of 2011.
“I certainly hope we won’t see 70 points (by Montini),” Sharp said. “From our standpoint, people don’t realize how important Malin (Jones) was to our offense last year, and because of the injuries, Ty really is not Ty this year.”
Sharp said the Hilltoppers may be benefiting from their close call against Lincoln-Way West, which came down to something less than a yard on the Warriors’ 2-point conversion attempt in overtime.
“Lincoln-Way West had as good a defense as we have seen all year,” he said. “They gave us fits. Most of the success we had was running right at them.
“They play with such high intensity. They have quickness getting up to the line, but they’re still able to get back in coverage.
“It was a great evaluation day for us. Offensively, we didn’t play that well, but we survived and we’re correcting the mistakes.”
It may be a situation similar to Montini after its 24-22 win over Sycamore in Round 2.
“You’re always going to have a game like that in the playoffs,” Sharp said. “I’ll tell you what, that game against Lincoln-Way West got our guys’ attention. In our film session (Monday), you could hear a pin drop.”