Sacred Heart-Griffin sends retiring coach Ken Leonard off with a sixth state title

Leonard, the winningest coach in state history, has won more than 400 games and after the Cyclones’ 44-20 win against Providence, he will retire with six state championships.

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Sacred-Heart Griffin’s Bill Sanders (1) runs up the side line during the fourth quarter.

Sacred-Heart Griffin’s Bill Sanders (1) runs up the side line during the fourth quarter.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.–Win or lose, the Class 4A state championship game on Friday at Memorial Stadium was going to be the final game for Sacred Heart-Griffin coach Ken Leonard. He’s retiring after 43 years.

Leonard, the winningest coach in state history, has won more than 400 games and after the Cyclones’ 44-20 win against Providence, he will retire with six state championships.

“It’s so hard to get here,” Leonard said. “Even when you have great teams. Some of my best teams never made it. Sometimes you just get on a roll. There are so many little things you have to get past.

“It went by in a blink. When I started I never dreamed I would coach 500 games.”

Sacred Heart-Griffin (14-0), a Springfield school, led for most of the game and took control in the third quarter, scoring on an 18-yard pass from Ty Lott to Madixx Morris and a one-yard run by Bill Sanders. That turned a seven-point lead into a 35-14 advantage.

Sanders had eight carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Richard Jackson added 10 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown for the Cyclones.

Quarterback Ty Lott was 12 for 26 passing for 214 yards with three touchdowns.

The Cyclones won the Class 6A title in 2008 and 2006 and the Class 5A championship in 2014, 2013 and 2005.

On the opposite sideline, Providence coach Tyler Plantz was wrapping up his first season as a high school head coach. The 2010 Providence graduate and former University of Notre Dame player and coach made an instant impact in New Lenox.

The Celtics were just 3-6 last season and advanced to the state championship game after upsetting Joliet Catholic, Richmond-Burton and St. Francis. The Hilltoppers beat Providence during the regular season.

Providence’s Anthony Picciolini (15) celebrates his touchdown.

Providence’s Anthony Picciolini (15) celebrates his touchdown.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

“This year we established what it means by Celtic football,” Plantz said. “They did it all year, they showed up and put in the work.”

Providence (9-5) tied the game at 7 on a four-yard pass from Lucas Proudfoot to Anthony Picciolini. Then the Celtics pulled within 21-14 just before halftime on a three-yard touchdown run by Kaden Nickel. But that was as close as it would get.

Proudfoot was 14 of 35 passing for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

It’s been a return to prominence season for the Celtics, who have won eight state titles. Providence won the Class 7A title in 2014, the Class 6A title in 2004 and 2001, the Class 5A title in 2002 and 1994 and the 4A championship in 1997, 1991 and 1987.

“I could not be more proud of this group of seniors,” Plantz said. “They brought it back.”

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