CHAMPAIGN – Amidst the din of screaming Prairie Ridge fans in Memorial Stadium’s south end zone, Prairie Ridge linebacker Brad Simms, gold medal draped around his neck, searched for words.
“It’s unbelievable,” Simms said. “Words can’t even describe this. It’s amazing. We’ve been going for this for three years and we finally got here. I’m glad we can bring it home.”
Peoria Richwoods played even with Prairie Ridge for one half, but eventually the Wolves imposed their will through their stifling defense and precise option offense. Prairie Ridge scored three third-quarter touchdowns to break things open and win the IHSA Class 6A football state championship, 35-14, Saturday afternoon.
It was the first football state championship in Prairie Ridge’s history and the second for a Fox Valley Conference team in three years. Cary-Grove won the 6A title in 2009.
After reaching the semifinals in the previous two seasons, Prairie Ridge (13-1) was determined to finish the job this time.
“It’s extremely gratifying to get to this point,” Wolves coach Chris Schremp said. “These guys here, after that game last year [a 14-7 semifinal loss to Boylan] the next Monday they were ready to go in the weight room. It has been our goal to get here and win it. These guys worked like champions. What an awesome life lesson about working hard and doing things the right way.”
Richwoods scored first, but Prairie Ridge answered right back and they were tied, 7-7, at halftime. Running back Jordan Getzelman, who rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns, said the locker room atmosphere at halftime was businesslike.
“We knew we had two quarters left to put everything on the line,” Getzelman said. “Every guy looked each other in the eye, we knew what we wanted to do. We had to wear them down with Prairie Ridge football. As long as we did that, I felt we’d win the game.”
The Wolves scored on their first possession of the second half on Getzelman’s 13-yard run, then added a defensive score when Simms stripped running back Jeremye Johnson near the Knights’ 18-yard line. Defensive end Erik Odden picked up a perfect hop at the 15 and scored.
Richwoods (10-4) answered that touchdown, but that was all the Knights could get.
The Wolves’ defense held dangerous running back Kendrick Foster, who had 2,362 yards coming into the game, to 59 yards on 18 carries. The Knights managed only 192 total yards.
Prairie Ridge quarterback Nick Nissen worked some of his option magic and pitched to Getzelman for a 35-yard score.
“They run the option pretty well and it’s all based on responsibility,” Knights linebacker Ben Couri said. “If you have one person who misses their job, [the ball carrier] can be gone.”
Richwoods coach Roland Brown felt his defense hung tough for the most part.
“Prairie Ridge is a very, very good football team,” Brown said. “We played responsibility football on defense very well. We just never got the offense going the way we wanted it to.”
With Prairie Ridge fans already cheering for their impending state championship, running back Steve Bashor capped the scoring with a 27-yard touchdown with 1:24 remaining.
“I still don’t believe that it happened,” fullback Connor Greenwald said. “I thank all my teammates. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point. It’s overwhelming to finally do it.”