TF North beats rival TF South to capture Wooden Shoe-Mushroom trophy for first time since 2019

On his last chance, senior Dominic Gradford helped bring the Wooden Shoe-Mushroom Trophy back to TF North.

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TF North celebrates with the Wooden Shoe-Mushroom Trophy after beating TF South.

TF North celebrates with the Wooden Shoe-Mushroom Trophy after beating TF South.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

On his last chance, senior Dominic Gradford helped bring the Wooden Shoe-Mushroom Trophy back to TF North.

The traveling trophy, which features nods to Lansing’s Dutch heritage (the shoe) and Calumet City’s agricultural origins (the mushroom), has been on display most often at TF South. The Red Wolves lead the all-time series between the District 215 rivals 45-22.

But Gradford, a speedy dual-threat quarterback who also plays defensive back, made enough plays on Saturday to help North win its South Suburban Blue opener 17-14 in Calumet City.

Gradford passed for 84 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown to Terrion Long, and ran for 62 more as the Meteors moved to 4-0 for the first time since 2009.

“It’s a blessing,” Gradford said. “I’m not really too much excited because I know the job’s still not finished. We need to go to the [IHSA] playoffs. But it feels good.”

The Meteors haven’t played in the postseason since 2011 and haven’t had possession of the trophy since 2019.

“Ever since my freshman year when they lost, I told them I’m gonna get it back for them,” Gradford said.

Winning the rivalry game also had extra meaning for first-year TF North coach Anthony Pignatiello, an alum who played football and baseball for the Meteors. He was the head baseball coach before giving up that job to revive a football program that was coming off eight straight losing seasons.

“The story is not about me,” Pignatiello said. “The story is about the kids, it’s about Calumet City and about TF North. I’ve never been more proud to be from Calumet City and so blessed to be an alum of TF North. ... Our players, they’re the heroes today.”

North took the opening kickoff and drove 73 yards in 14 plays to score on a four-yard run by Tristan Jackson. It was the seventh TD of the season for the senior back, who finished with 68 yards on 15 carries.

North then recovered an onside kick and four plays later, it was 14-0 on Gradford’s TD pass to Long.

The Meteors didn’t score again until junior kicker Carlos Roa, who is also a starting offensive lineman, booted a 27-yard field goal with 2:23 left in the game.

TF North’s Dominic Gradford (11) stands in the pocket and looks for an open receiver.

TF North’s Dominic Gradford (11) stands in the pocket and looks for an open receiver.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

That field goal gave the Meteors a 17-6 lead and loomed large when TF South (0-4, 0-2 South Suburban Blue) came down and scored on Christian Streeter’s three-yard run with 1:25 left.

The Meteors then recovered an onside kick and Gradford took a knee twice to run out the clock. Like Gradford and Pignatiello, Roa was emotional when talking about winning back the trophy.

“I grew up with all the seniors and they leave me this year,” Roa said. “It touched my heart.”

North has more playmakers than in recent years. Long had 84 yards on five touches, including a 33-yard run, and Joseph Merritt added 35 yards on nine carries.

Gradford is the glue that holds everything together. Roa appreciated Gradford reaching out after he called for two penalties.

Blocking for Gradford is “very special,” Roa said. “He keeps my head up every time. After those two holding calls, he’s the one who came to me. Ever since he was a freshman, he’s a leader.”

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