Denzell Gibson sparks IC Catholic to Class 3A state title

“Denzell was amazing,” Williamsville coach Aaron Kunz said. “He’s at a different level. When he started chugging and had space, he was a locomotive.”

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IC Catholic’s Denzell Gibson (7) runs over tackler as he heads to the end zone in the third quarter.

IC Catholic’s Denzell Gibson (7) runs over tackler as he heads to the end zone in the third quarter.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

CHAMPAIGN — Williamsville’s star players had tears in their eyes as they nodded in agreement with coach Aaron Kunz’s assessment of IC Catholic senior Denzell Gibson.

‘‘Denzell was amazing,’’ Kunz said. ‘‘He’s at a different level. When he started chugging and had space, he was a locomotive.’’

The Bullets hung with IC Catholic for about a quarter and a half. But when Gibson moved from receiver to running back, the Knights (13-1) took control and coasted to a 48-17 victory in the Class 3A state championship game.

Gibson had 51- and 34-yard touchdown runs and finished with 10 carries for 138 yards. He acknowledged he kicked things into another gear in the title game and said it was what he saw in the huddle that motivated him.

‘‘Seeing in their eyes and seeing they wanted it as much as I did, I didn’t want to let those guys down,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘I had a job to do.’’

Gibson scored 22 touchdowns this season and junior KJ Parker 19. The two were willing to play multiple positions on offense and defense, succeeding everywhere and setting an unselfish tone for the team.

‘‘Whether it was running or blocking or catching the ball, I just wanted to make sure I could build off my brothers and do anything I could possibly do,’’ Gibson said.

‘‘It’s scary seeing him lower his shoulder,’’ Parker said of Gibson. ‘‘His determination to get in the end zone every time he touches the ball is amazing.’’

Williamsville (12-2) led 10-0 early in the second quarter. IC Catholic’s first strike was a 65-yard touchdown pass from Dennis Mandala to Parker.

‘‘We haven’t called that play in, like, 12 weeks, but that kind of sparked it all, and the energy just never went back the other way,’’ Knights coach Bill Krefft said. ‘‘We started rolling after that.’’

Mandala was 10-for-17 passing for 200 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Parker had four catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Junior JP Schmidt contributed two receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown, grabbed two interceptions and made a game-high 16 tackles.

IC Catholic’s KJ Parker (14) and the rest of the team celebrate after winning the Class 3A state title.

IC Catholic’s KJ Parker (14) and the rest of the team celebrate after winning the Class 3A state title.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

‘‘I was really determined,’’ Parker said. ‘‘I wanted the ball in my hands, and I knew I had the ability to make the play when the team needs me most. I want to be there for my guys.’’

It’s the sixth state championship for IC Catholic. The Knights won the Class 4A title in 2018, Class 3A titles in 2017, 2016 and 2002 and the Class 2A title in 2008.

Williamsville quarterback Jake Seman threw touchdown passes to Jackson Workman and Harley Sharp. The Bullets won the Class 3A title in 2019 and lost in the title game in 2014.

‘‘[The state playoffs] are better than the NFL playoffs, the college playoffs,’’ Kunz said. ‘‘How it brings communities and kids together, there is nothing better.

‘‘Our guys were playing just above-average football until around Week 8, and they turned it on and improved each week. It’s been a special run. These seniors have been unbelievable.’’

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