A few yards away, behind the south end zone of the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, Crete-Monee was being handed the IHSA Class 6A football state championship trophy.
Over the din of the Warriors’ celebration, Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg could not wait. He needed to address his players, as he had 13 previous times in the football season. This talk would be much briefer, but probably the most meaningful.
“This hurts so bad because you invested so much,” Seaburg said. “But you investing so much is what makes it worth it.”
The Trojans fell short of the ultimate goal, a state championship, but they were close. Crete-Monee, led by the extraordinary talents of receiver-safety Laquon Treadwell, won the state title game, 33-26, Saturday in Champaign.
C-G was trying to win its second state championship in four years. Five of this year’s seniors – Quinn Baker, Ryan Mahoney, Zach Marszal, Kyle Norberg and Patrick O’Malley – actually received medals with that team as players called up for the playoffs. This year’s championship medals would have meant more, however, because this was really their team.
“It was a cool experience to be a part of,” Marszal said of their 13-1 record this season. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be down here with, and we would have liked to come out of here with a win, but that’s the way it goes. [Crete-Monee] earned it, and we just had too many costly mistakes. We’re still proud of a second-place finish.”
The loss will gnaw at C-G for some time. There were ample opportunities, but four turnovers were costly. Twice, those ended drives around C-M’s 20-yard line. Another fumble, deep in C-G territory, was scooped up for a Warriors’ defensive touchdown.
Although they fell behind 33-16 in the third quarter, the Trojans were close. They scored 10 fourth-quarter points, kept C-M from scoring again and eventually ran out of time.
“We never felt like we were out of it when we were down by 17,” Seaburg said.
The Trojans handed Prairie Ridge’s state championship team its only loss last season, 22-21, in Week 9 of the regular season. C-G lost to Nazareth, 24-0, in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs and didn’t get another shot at Prairie Ridge.
C-G used the bitter taste from that loss as motivation throughout the offseason as it prepared for what people thought would be a strong season. The Trojans’ closest regular-season game came in Week 3 against Crystal Lake South, a 17-3 victory.
C-G overcame injuries to key offensive players – Baker, Mahoney and sophomore guard Michael Gomez – and got healthy at just most opportune time. The Trojans were pushed by Crystal Lake Central, 7-0, in the quarterfinals, then played perhaps their best game to defeat Lake Forest, 42-21, in the semifinals. In that game, the option attack was brilliant, racking up 512 yards, all on the ground.
In the championship game, the Trojans faced a team with outstanding speed and a tough defense that forced turnovers and kept them from breaking their usual big runs.
“The outcome wasn’t how we wanted it to be, but it was a really exciting experience,” Baker said. “Both crowds were really into the game. It was a close game and it was a great experience to have, but the wrong outcome.”