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Wheaton North dominates St. Rita to take Class 7A trophy

Quarterback Mark Forcucci and receiver Seth Kortenhoeven did most of the damage on offense for Wheaton North.

Wheaton North’s Seth Kortenhoeven (4) and Ross Dansdill (33) flex towards each other after Kortenhoeven’s touchdown against St. Rita.
Wheaton North’s Seth Kortenhoeven (4) and Ross Dansdill (33) flex towards each other after Kortenhoeven’s touchdown against St. Rita.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

DeKALB — Wheaton North’s press box proudly proclaims that the Falcons won state championships in 1979, 1981 and 1986.

It’s time for a new paint job.

Wheaton North dominated St. Rita 35-6 to win the Class 7A state championship on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

“Some of the players have dads that were on those teams,” Falcons coach Joe Wardynski said. “They had our back the whole way. We’ve had those same three state titles on our press box all these years. Now we can add 2021 to it.”

Quarterback Mark Forcucci and receiver Seth Kortenhoeven did most of the damage on offense for Wheaton North. Forcucci, a three-year starter and Holy Cross recruit, was 14-for-22 with two touchdown passes and one interception.

“We were backed up a few times early on, and instead of giving up a score, we forced the field goal, and fortunately they didn’t convert on those,” Wardynski said. “Then offensively, we started putting things together.”

The Falcons’ first score came after the two missed field goals by St. Rita. Forcucci connected with Kortenhoeven for a 38-yard touchdown to open the second quarter.

It was all Wheaton North from there.

Kortenhoeven had seven receptions for 158 yards and one touchdown. The Falcons (13-1) led 21-0 at halftime.

“I can just trust Mark to always put it on me in a good spot,” Kortenhoeven said. “So it’s easy to make plays. It’s amazing.”

Wheaton North’s Mark Forcucci (5) gets ready to pass the ball against St. Rita.
Wheaton North’s Mark Forcucci (5) gets ready to pass the ball against St. Rita.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

St. Rita star Kaleb Brown had eight catches for 128 yards, but the Mustangs were never able to pull off a big play.

“We definitely knew that [Brown] was going to be the focal point for us,” Wardynski said. “Whether he was in the backfield, the slot or the outside, we knew that’s where we needed to roll our coverage and try to take him away from making big plays.”

Big things were expected of the Falcons this season; they were ranked No. 9 in the preseason. But Wheaton North surpassed all expectations with an incredible playoff run. The Falcons won at Willowbrook in the quarterfinals and beat Brother Rice in the semifinals.

“That bend-don’t-break mentality is something we pride ourselves on,” Wheaton North linebacker Ross Dansdill said. “We like to call it swarming to the football when all open bodies bust their butt to the ball. Don’t be lazy and make plays happen.”

The Falcons even overcame a late-season injury to their top running back, Brayton Maske. Junior Luke Beedle and sophomore Walker Owens stepped up to fill the hole. Beedle had 23 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

“Maske taught me everything I know,” Beedle said. “He’s been a great leader and a great friend. He makes me better every day.”

St. Rita (11-3) lost in the Class 5A title game the last time the state playoffs were held in 2019. Quarterback Tommy Ulatowski (17-for-36 for 189 yards with one interception), Brown and lineman Valen Erickson were on that team.

“I’m just so proud of all these guys for fighting through everything the last few years,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “Back-to-back state-championship trips. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but there is a lot to be proud of for these guys. Hats off to Wheaton North on a great football game.”