EVERGREEN PARK -- A state-championship appearance, not revenge, was all the Alleman football team thought about this week.|
Turns out, the Pioneers got both.
Playing near-flawless football for four quarters, Alleman shook off a haunting past with a 23-7 win over Evergreen Park in a Class 4A state semifinal on Saturday night. In securing the fifth state championship appearance in program history, the Pioneers avenged a disappointing second-round loss on the same field to the same team 54 weeks earlier.
"Last year, we left in tears. Tonight, it's all smiles," Alleman coach Dave DeJaegher said. "It's great seeing the kids' faces with smiles on them."
The walk off the muddy turf featured countless smiles, hugs and DeJaegher getting doused with the water from a cooler. Alleman (12-1) experienced this moment many times before, but the victory and what it meant made it even sweeter.
"I can't describe the feeling. I'm extremely proud of this group," Alleman senior quarterback John Tracey said. "Words can't describe this."
The Pioneers advance to Friday's Class 4A state championship game against Rochester (12-1) -- a 49-22 winner over Harrisburg -- at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The reigning two-time state champions handed Alleman a 24-7 loss in the 2010 Class 4A state championship game.
Will Alleman avenge that loss in five days? The answer will come Friday night.Until then, the Pioneers are savoring the experience.
"Awesome," Alleman senior Tom Noe said. "This is pretty big."
All of the euphoria started with one defensive stand.
Evergreen Park (9-4) took a 7-0, first-quarter lead after Brandon White's four-yard run, then were poised to double it when it recovered the subsequent kickoff that hit an Alleman player on the front line. The recovery put the Mustangs on the Alleman 45 late in the quarter.
With their backs against the wall, the Pioneers eventually forced Evergreen Park to turn the ball over on downs, preserving the 7-0 deficit.
"Coach was preaching all week that they might hit us in the face first. It's how we respond to the first punch. That's what our defense did," said Alleman senior Adam Hoogerwerf, who helped lead the defensive effort that limited Evergreen Park to 243 yards of offense.
"They put us in a tough position, but we stopped them."
From there, Alleman held control.
The Pioneers scored on their ensuing drive when Sean Wetherell scored from three yards early in the second quarter to tie the game. Two possessions later, Alleman sealed the deal.
Wetherell's nine-yard touchdown reception from Tracey late in the second quarter capped a 6-play, 55-yard drive that gave Alleman a 13-7 lead with 32 seconds left in the half.
A squib kick on the kickoff then was recovered by the Pioneers at the Evergreen Park 25. That last-second drive ended on Connor Whan's 28-yard field goal right before halftime.
In 28 seconds, Alleman scored nine points to give it a 16-7 halftime lead.
"You have to give credit to the defense," Whan said, "and the offense running down the clock."
During the second half, that's what the Pioneers did. Despite scoring only once, Alleman iced the game by holding the ball exactly 16 minutes in the second half.
The game-sealing drive spanned parts of each quarter, lasting 8:06. When the drive ended, Alleman held a 23-7 advantage after Tracey's one-yard plunge.
At that point, the Pioneers finished this off.
"The whole week, we thought about" last year's loss, Tracey said. "But when we came out here, it was just another game. We didn't think about that -- we knew we needed to get it done."
Alleman did, giving it a state championship berth and some revenge.
"A perfect night," Whan said. "We couldn't ask for anything better."
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