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Alabama recruit Jahleel Billingsley carries Phillips past Lake Forest

Phillips' Jahleel Billingsley (9) heads straight for the end zone. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Sometimes when you want to get things done, you do it yourself. That’s just what Phillips senior Jahleel Billingsley did Saturday in the Wildcats’ 30-24 win against Lake Forest at Gately Stadium in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Phillips went to the wildcat with Billingsley taking the snap instead of quarterback Terryon Thrower. Billingsley scored on an 11-yard touchdown run, breaking a few tackles along the way.

“That’s the mantra for everybody on the team,” Billingsley said. “You just play when you’re needed and step up and make big time plays during big time games.”

Billingsley, who has made an oral commitment to Alabama ran for 152 yards on 15 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Phillips coach Troy McAllister knows what a player Billingsley is. He plays on both sides of the ball and kicks for the Wildcats.

“It’d be hard for us to find a better football player in the state than Jahleel,” he said. “He’s been big-time all year and he was big-time today in crunch time.”

But even with a high-caliber player like Billingsley, the Wildcats’ momentum was constantly hampered by penalties.

If Phillips (8-2) didn’t beat Lake Forest (5-5), the Wildcats would have only had themselves to blame.

Phillips had two touchdowns pulled back due to holding penalties.

“Obviously penalties played a significant role,” McAllister said. “[On] the sideline replay, you look at the film and you’re like, ‘Why is that being called? And why is it not being called the other way?’ But that’s life in the state playoffs and no sour grapes about it but it’s a common thread against CPS teams.”

Phillips’ road to the playoffs this season wasn’t easy. The Wildcats have been without starting quarterback Leonard Smith since he suffered a lower-body injury in Week 5.

Junior Terryon Thrower stepped up in Smith’s absence and has helped roll Phillips to six consecutive wins.

And while Smith, a transfer from Hubbard, was recently cleared to play, McAllister decided to stick with Thrower, who went 11-for-16 for 92 yards with three interceptions and one touchdown.

“We’re 6-0 with our back-up quarterback right now and that experience for Terryon is great,” McAllister said. “Each moment that he’s out there, every snap that he takes it kind of goes in the memory bank and you learn from it.”

McAllister hinted that Smith could start next weekend depending how practice goes this week.

“We’ll see,” he said.

As for Lake Forest, coach Chuck Spagnoli didn’t have any regrets after the team’s season-ending loss.

“I can’t think of a reason to change anything, I thought our players played well,” Spagnoli said. “It’s a great team. They’re exactly what they thought it be. You knew it was going to be a close game, you knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and in the end someone’s going to lose.”

And in the playoffs, it’s all about survive and advance.

“[Our next game will] probably be Prairie Ridge and their the defending 6A state champs,” McAllister said. “There’s not much time to sit and think about it you just move on. It’s the state playoffs.”

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