Trojans head to Don town for semis

Before Saturday afternoon, only six teams in Cary-Grove’s long history had reached the distinguished level of the state semifinal. A 34-24 win over Phillips Academy was the perfect way to introduce the seventh.

It wasn’t easy, but winning 12 straight and being one of four teams left really shouldn’t be.

The Trojans came out of the gate on fire, knowing how good their opposing team was and what was at stake. The Trojans won the coin toss and chose to defer, and the starting defense was announced as they ran out onto the field.

However, on the very first play of the game, kicker Nathan Splitt squibbed the ball short-right to a Phillips player who touched the ball and then couldn’t manage to gain possession of it. The Trojans recovered, and in one play the Trojans special teams defense had given Ben McDonald and the offense a chance to take an early lead — and that’s exactly what they did.

Just two plays later, Danny Daigle started off what would be one of his best games of the season with a 16-yard TD. Splitt’s point after went right through, and the Trojans had a 7-0 lead. Now, it was the Wildcats’ turn to answer.

Last week I mentioned how good Phillips senior Jahleel Billingsley is. That was wrong. Frankly, he’s more than that, and that showed in this game, especially in the first half.

On the fourth or fifth play of the game, the Alabama commit caught it and galloped 59 yards to the house, then ran it in himself for an extra two points after. Barely a minute had passed in the game, and the score already stood at 8-7. The Phillips kickoff team came out for the first time, and guess who booted in downfield? Billingsley. For at least the first half of this game, the man was redefining dominance.

However, the Trojans had studied hours of film and practiced tirelessly all week, knowing how much of a threat they were facing. They knew exactly how to slow him down, and that’s exactly what they did.

“From an offensive line perspective, we knew we had to be as physical as possible,” senior Addison West, who plays both offensive and defensive line, said. “On defense, we had to contain. [Billingsley] is a very good athlete. We had to keep pressure on their offense the whole time.”

“He’s an exceptional player,” junior Dymitri Kanellakis said. “But I think defensively we did a great job of making tackles.”

What followed was fast-paced, back and forth action. Both teams even had their try at a fake punt, and both completed it. However, it was obvious as the game went on in the second half that the Trojans were asserting themselves as the better team, and a late touchdown by junior Blake Skol gave the Trojans what would be their winning lead — 34-24.

“It was a good game on both sides of the ball. Both teams played hard,” Coach Brad Seaburg said post-game. “You could see that both teams competed, you could see that both teams are championship-caliber teams. They weren’t going to quit, we weren’t going to quit.”

As previously stated, Daigle had himself a game. He ran the ball 8 times for 109 yards and three TDs. Most impressive, Daigle had six first downs, many of which were on crucial fourth down plays.

“He’s a stud,” Coach Seaburg simply put it. “He just plays hard. He just battles. I don’t think he ever came off the field.”

Around 4 p.m., right as most had left the stands in Cary, all eyes turned to the quarterfinal battle in Niles between the two-seed Antioch Sequoits and the six-seed Niles Notre Dame Dons. The game had just started, the winner set to play Cary-Grove in the semis.

Similar to the week before, when they beat Crystal Lake South 17-7, Niles came up with the win 17-10. The 6A semifinals are set- one-seed Richards vs eleven-seed Crete-Monee, and one-seed Cary-Grove vs six-seed Niles Notre Dame.

The Dons had an impressive season. Despite being a six seed, they only had two losses- Marist and Joliet Catholic, arguably two of the best teams in the state. Just like every team the Trojans have faced before in this bracket, they aren’t ready to be done.

“They are like us. Just normal high school kids with a heart to play football,” Junior Nathan Desmet said of Niles Notre Dame. “They will have a tough will to break, but I think we can break it.” Desmet plays tight end for the Trojans, and had a nice catch Saturday on a drive that eventually led to a Trojan touchdown.

While the achievement of being one of only seven CG teams to get this far is impressive, every player, coach and fan knows that it is in no way the stopping point. A win this week means a trip to the state championship. The 12 wins before today have brought this team to this moment, and now they’re ready to keep on rolling, still one week at a time.

“Our goal is in reach,” Addison West said, “and it feels great.”