Big, tough, accurate Ben McDonald powers Cary-Grove past Prairie Ridge

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Cary-Grove’s Ben McDonald (17) carries the ball. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.

Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge, district and conference rivals, have used the same offense to rise to statewide prominence over the past decade: the triple-option.

2017 Sun-Times Player of the Year Samson Evans was the special ingredient that gave the Wolves an edge the past few seasons. His heroics led Prairie Ridge to a last second win against the Trojans in last season’s Class 6A state playoffs.

Friday in Crystal Lake it was Cary-Grove quarterback Ben McDonald that tipped the scale the Trojans’ way. No. 13 Cary-Grove beat the No. 20 Wolves 21-14 to win the Fox Valley conference.

“[McDonald’s passing ability] was the difference in this game, stretching them out a little bit and making them play a little softer,” Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. “His ability to get the ball in the right spots has been huge for us.”

McDonald has attempted more passes than any Trojans quarterback in the past eight seasons. He was 10-for-13 for 158 yards and one touchdown. McDonald has been very accurate all season. He’s thrown 15 touchdown passes and just one interception. He’s only thrown five incompletions in the last four games.

Quinn Priester, a 6-3 senior, is his favorite target. Priester had four catches for 75 yards.

“[McDonald] is a big kid,” Cary-Grove senior Danny Daigle said. “I knew he could run the ball but I didn’t expect him to pass as well as he has. He’s been phenomenal.”

McDonald is a bruising runner. No yards came easy, it was a battle in the trenches. He had 22 carries for 113 yard and one touchdown, a one-yard run with 2:57 to play that ended up as the game-winning score.

“This is always going to be a hard, bruising game,” McDonald said. “Every single game between us is a huge battle.”

Prairie Ridge led 14-0 in the second quarter. The Trojans (8-0, 8-0) scored with 12 seconds left to play in the half on a 20-yard touchdown pass from McDonald to Daigle.

“That was huge,” Seaburg said. “It gave us momentum. It gave the kids some fight. And in the second half we really controlled things on offense and defense.”

Cary-Grove held Prairie Ridge star running back Jackson Willis to just 40 yards on 16 carries.

“That’s amazing,” Seaburg said. “He’s averaged over 200 a game this year. There is a reason why Willis has ran for 1,400 yards. No one has ever tackled him. Once we tackled him they went to the third part of the option.”

Daigle had eight carries for 56 yards and four catches for 43 yards.

“I’m hurting real bad right now,” Daigle said. “But we knew weren’t out of it. We don’t have any quit in us. We made some adjustments and kept executing and doing our jobs.”

“[Daigle] is the ultimate warrior,” Seaburg said. “He’s banged up and was cramping there at the end. I think he had a stinger. You’re not going to be able to take that kid off the field though.”

Ethan Kirchberg, that third part of the option, had 10 carries for 71 yards for Prairie Ridge (6-2, 5-2). Quarterback Connor Lydon was 5-for-11 for 82 yards with one touchdown.

Cary-Grove is tied with Richards atop the Associated Press Class 6A state rankings. But after the past few years it has been hard for observers around the state to look past Prairie Ridge. That changed on Friday.

“This just sends a statement,” McDonald said. “We beat the two-time defending state champions. It’s the first time I’ve ever beaten Prairie Ridge.”

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