Trojans vanquish Knights, look to tame ‘Cats

A brisk Saturday afternoon in November, precisely 1 p.m. It’s nothing special; unless, of course, you’re talking about high school football. Then it all makes sense — it’s playoff prime time for the remaining teams.

That’s why, along with many other games around the conference and state, the Cary-Grove Trojans had their second round playoff game kickoff at 1:00, facing off against the Kaneland Knights.

Similar to the only other day game the Trojans have played all year, the homecoming game against D.C., the game started out of the ordinary for the visiting team. Kaneland took the first five minutes and more of the first quarter and marched downfield, managing a TD but a missed extra point.

The Trojans offense got the ball for the first time with about five minutes remaining in the first. While there was still plenty of game left, it was apparent that the Trojans would need to match with a TD of their own soon.

Enter Ben McDonald, Danny Daigle, and the rest of the powerhouse Trojans offense.

Numerous crucial plays and TDs from them and others led to a huge 38-6 win. One can’t fail to recognize the Trojans defense, either, who came back onto the field following Kaneland’s first and only TD and worked as an absolute brick wall, never letting the Knights score another point.

QB McDonald, as he has all season, led the charge on offense with four TDs of his own (and a fifth called back on a questionable flag). However, McDonald gave credit for the defense for the win.

“They’ve been doing a great job all year,” McDonald said. “After that first drive, they absolutely locked them down.”

In the second half, as the game became more and more of a blue-and-white blowout, word of mouth and the occasional score announcement got people talking about the absolute battle taking place between a familiar foe and a fellow 6A powerhouse — Prairie Ridge vs Phillips.

Just before the final play of the Trojans game, the final score of the Phillips/PR game was announced. Unlike the Trojans and Knights, this game had been close the whole time.

Down by three with less than two minutes remaining, Phillips senior Jahleel Billingsley marched his team downfield, ending with a 51-yard TD on a short pass to his teammate Anthony Anderson. Just like that, it was over for the two-time defending state champions. Phillips had taken down the Wolves, 24-19.

As you can imagine, this announcement caused a sizeable cheer from the Trojans fans. Kaneland and Prairie Ridge were both out, and the quarterfinal was set: for the third straight week, it’ll be a Saturday afternoon Trojans home game, this time versus the Phillips Wildcats.

Despite two losses, Phillips is a powerhouse. They have two titles in the last three years. They are often televised, and the Trojans and Wildcats were both popular picks to win the bracket.

However, this is their first year in this division. They were previously both 4A and 5A champions before moving up to 6A this season.

One thing that makes the Trojans so successful is their wide array of core, talented players. Phillips is different. Billingsley leads their offense — in fact, it’s fair to say the entire offense is built around him.

Billingsley is the first player from Illinois to commit to Alabama, the country’s top-ranked college team, in at least 20 years. Let’s just say he really knows how to play the game of football. In no way is this to downgrade the value of the rest of their team, but the Trojans defense knows Billingsley is the man to stop.

The quarterfinal matchup we will witness this Saturday is surely the most important game the Trojans have played all year. Confidence in their ability will be key for the Trojans on both sides of the ball, and it hasn’t been lacking all season long.

For the last few months, no two team names have been more common answers to “who will win 6A?” than the Phillips Wildcats and Cary-Grove Trojans. Now they finally meet.