How Sacred Heart-Griffin fired on all cylinders to set up Leonard Bowl rematch
The stage is set.
No. 2 Sacred Heart-Griffin (12-0) will clash with No. 4 rival Rochester (11-1) in the Class 4A state semifinals for a second consecutive season at Ken Leonard Field at 7 p.m. on Friday.
SHG senior receiver KeShon Singleton helped cement that showdown with a 75-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff and the Cyclones dispatched No. 6 Murphysboro 51-13 in their home quarterfinal on a chilly Saturday afternoon.
Singleton said he just saw a lane and took it.
“I just wanted to make a big play,” Singleton said.
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Offense finds its groove
SHG ignited from there — bearing little resemblance to the team that survived a narrow 28-16 win last week at No. 10 Waterloo. The Cyclones trailed 6-0 at halftime in the second-round scare and were without head coach Ken Leonard due to an illness.
Leonard was back on the sidelines for the quarterfinals. Ditto that familiar offensive success.
Senior quarterback Ty Lott completed 8 of 11 passing attempts for 184 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also had two TD keepers. Singleton nabbed four receptions for 68 yards.
“It feels great,” said Leonard, who will retire at the end of this season. “This is where we want to be.”
The offense knew it had to make a statement, Singleton said.
“Last week we had a tough time getting the ball upfield and scoring points and that hasn’t been a problem all year,” Singleton said. “But we got tested and Waterloo’s a great program. This game we just had to prove our offense still has it — 51 points, that’s what we needed to do.”
Defense stonewalls Red Devils
The defense also forced a couple of turnovers beginning with senior defensive back DeAndre Stewart’s interception. Lott immediately capitalized with a 44-yard TD pass to senior wideout Jake Hamilton for a quick 22-0 lead with 5:25 left in the first quarter.
Lott later threw a 26-yard TD toss to senior tailback Bill Sanders to end the first period ahead 28-0. Sanders subsequently triggered the running clock early in the third quarter with a 21-yard touchdown run.
Senior running back Richard Jackson added 43 rushing yards on three attempts.
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“That’s what he does,” Singleton said of Lott. “He showed flashes last year and it’s just continued over into this year just being a great player, great teammate and a great leader at the quarterback position. Him using his legs and his arm to dominate is just what has made this team so special.”
Senior linebacker Cory West recovered a fumble in the second quarter to maintain a 38-0 halftime lead.
Leonard said the defense played tremendously.
“When our first-team defense was in there, they had very little chance to move the ball,” Leonard said. “We’ve gotten so much better against the run and we have to because we know how good Rochester is running the ball. It’s going to be a whole different ball game against Rochester. Whoever goes out and executes will be playing for a state championship game.”
Historic run comes to an end
Murphysboro (9-3) didn’t find the end zone until SHG’s backups entered the fray.
Senior running back Devon Clemons totaled 81 rushing yards and one TD on 22 attempts while senior Ethan Finke ran for 63 yards. Senior quarterback Drew Caldwell completed 8 of 16 for 99 yards and one TD with one INT.
“They’re a really great team,” Caldwell said of SHG. “They’re tough, they’re good players. We did what we could and we gave it our all, but that’s a great team.”
It was the Red Devils’ third consecutive playoff appearance.
“I think they said it’s the third team in history to make it this far (in the quarterfinals), so it feels great to be a part of it and be one of the players playing in it,” Caldwell said. “It’s awesome. The senior class is great. I love all of them. I’ve been playing with them my whole life. Devon Clemons is great and everyone on the line is great.”
One more Leonard Bowl
SHG can finally set its sights on the final Leonard Bowl against Rochester, which is coached by Ken’s son, Derek, and defeated No. 1 Carterville, 41-28.
The Leonard Bowl is here:The top 5 games so far in the SHG-Rochester football series
The Cyclones lead the series 10-5, including two straight postseason meetings. Ken’s group won last year’s 4A state semifinal 49-42 before settling for second place against Joliet Academy.
SHG also opened this season with a 62-27 win over Rochester at Ken Leonard Field.
“That was a long time ago,” Leonard said. “I know they’ve gotten so much better, and so have we. I think we showed what this conference and what these two programs mean to the state of Illinois.”
Contact Bill Welt: (217) 788-1545,firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt