By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
That Tyreis Thomas scored the decisive points in a 16-10 victory over Lake Zurich in Rockford Boylan’s IHSA Class 7A semifinal game Nov. 19 was not a surprise. That he scored them on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter was.
But the Titans’ defense, which has been overshadowed by their explosive offense all season, was up to the challenge when it mattered most, holding the Bears to fewer than 200 yards of offense and sealing the win with an interception in the last minute.
“They are just a phenomenal unit,” Boylan Head Coach Dan Appino said of his defense. “They’ve carried us all year long.”
The defenses for both teams were the stars of the game. While the Titans’ defense held repeatedly, Lake Zurich also held the best defense Boylan had seen all year.
But in a game that, for the most part, lacked for offense, Thomas carried the Titans as he had for the entire postseason. The senior ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
The first touchdown was set up by an interception by Boylan’s Adonis Brown, who broke in front of a Steve Kuhn pass and returned it to the Lake Zurich 38.
“He’s our best cover guy,” Appino said. “He’s a guy you want out there when they are throwing the ball. That’s Adonis being the playmaker that he is.”
The Bears responded with a 15-play, 73-yard drive that was capped by a short touchdown run by Kuhn to tie the game. A Boylan field goal by Sean Slattery gave them the lead at the half.
When the second half started, Thomas put both teams on his back, figuratively and literally.
A 66-yard run helped Boylan extend the lead to 16-7, giving the Titans an emotional lift. He also gave his team a lift by breaking multiple tackles on that run, including breaking free from three defenders at the 10-yard-line before finishing off the run.
“I’m thinking he has just put it in their territory and I’m thinking about the next play,” Appino said. “To see him cross the goal line was amazing. It gave us that feeling that now we can work with this.”
While his teammates were watching his heroic effort, all Thomas could think about was extending the lead. He said he knew how tough their defense was and that he had to take advantage of any opportunity to get in to the end zone.
“I saw the touchdown, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting there,” he said. “We saw them on film. I knew those guys were fast. But I wasn’t going to let anything stop me because we needed a score.”
Lake Zurich added a field goal to pull within 6 in the third quarter, and poor punting by Boylan allowed the Bears to spend much of the rest of the game around midfield. But the Titans were determined to make Thomas’ run hold up.
“We knew the defense was going to do our job and make the plays,” Brown said.
The Bears became desperate at the end of the game, inserting injured starting quarterback Zach Till into the lineup for the last two drives. Till, who had not played since the first round of the playoffs, was intercepted by DJ Zimmerman to cap the Boylan win.
The Titans are making their second straight trip to the state championship game in Champaign, winning in Class 6A last season. They will face two-time defending 7A champion Wheaton Warrenville South.
The Tigers are arguably the most successful football program in the state, winning seven state championships. They knocked off St. Rita on the road to return to the final.
Wheaton Warrenville is led by Northwestern recruit Dan Vitale. They have rebounded from three losses in their first four games, but will be down to their third quarterback of the season when sophomore Jordan Davis likely starts Saturday, Nov. 26.
The Titans are likely to be underdogs in a rare matchup of defending state champions. But they are going to approach this game like they have every other this year and will try to finish off the goal they set for the season.
“It feels really great,” Boylan quarterback Lamont Toney said of returning down state. “But we have another week of practice and another game. Hopefully, we can practice hard all week and come out with a W.”
From the Nov. 23-29, 2011, issue