NEW LENOX – The scoreboard at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois illuminated the final score of the Class 7A state championship game.
Providence 31, Cary-Grove 28. The "Quest for X," the Celtics' 10th state title, was complete.
All-state quarterback Justin Hunniford (North Central), All-American wide receiver Miles Boykin (Notre Dame), tight end Nate Vejvoda (Iowa) and 11 other starters who led the Celtics to the state crown have moved on. Yet the cupboard is far from empty.
Five state-champion starters, plus place-kicker PJ Kowaokowski, return to spearhead the offensive attack for coach Mark Coglianese. On defense, four starters return for the "Quest for 11," which begins Friday when Joliet Catholic visits.
"Last season was a special run by a very special group of people that culminated with the state championship," Coglianese said. "To win the mighty Chicago Catholic League Blue and defeat both St. Rita and Mount Carmel during the regular season, and then on the road in the Class 7A playoffs, made the championship run even more worthwhile."
So, who will replace Hunniford, who threw for 3,300 yards, 40 touchdowns and but three interceptions while running for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns?
"Justin is irreplaceable," Coglianese said. "Senior Steve Simowitz and junior Jared Drake both have worked very hard in the offseason and in practice. Simowitz gets the first shot but the junior, Drake, will be given a shot. I have confidence in both."
Simowitz completed 12 of his 18 passes last season for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 55 yards and one touchdown.
The offense will feature 5-11, 195-pound junior running back Richie Warfield, who rushed for 128 yards and four touchdowns in the state final. He rushed for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns overall and hauled in 35 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns.
"We're really looking forward to the challenge of defending our state championship," Warfield said. "Justin and Miles were special players along with all the other quality seniors on last year's team.
"We know we will have a target on our backs but are looking forward to the challenge. Our first goal for the season is to have a great practice today. As the season progresses ,our goals will continue. I'm looking forward to taking a larger role this year."
The Celtics offensive line returns 6-3, 256-pound Travis Woerner and 6-5, 290-pound Tom Younker, will move from guard to tackle, to continue to pave the way for Warfield and the Celtics backfield. Abe Contreras-DeFrias, Blake Labelle, junior Jake Scheeringa and Nick Fleischman will form the rest of the Celtic offensive line. Junior tight end Luke Garwood moves into Vejvoda's spot.
All-purpose senior Mike Markasovic returns after hauling in 41 passes for 574 yards and two touchdowns. Markasovic also rushed for 166 yards and two scores and is a strong blocker.
Connor Creed caught 14 passes, three for touchdowns. He joins junior Martez Malone to form a formidable wide receiver corps.
The Celtics defense will be led by one of the hardest hitters anywhere in 6-2, 220-pound senior linebacker Brendan O'Hara. An all-stater last season, O'Hara plays sideline to sideline.
Nose guard Tyler Schiemann and defensive backs Zach Pych and Nate Griffin also return. However, safety Mike Madej will not return to concentrate on baseball.
Junior defensive lineman Alex Bowler, linebackers Brad Jenner and Danny McDonald and defensive backs Derek Bresingham, Chris Kaminski and Mariano Sori are leading candidates to fill the defensive vacancies. Jackson Dvorak also is in the mix.
"It was great to win the state baseball championship this spring," O'Hara said. "Winning state in football last fall really showed us what we have to do to win the state championship again. We hope to do all the things we did last year to have a successful season. But our first and only goal of the season, thus far is to be 1-0."
"Offensively, we will be led by Warfield and Markasovic," Coglianese said. "We return two fine tackles in Woerner and Younker and are expecting big things from our junior wide receiver Malone.
"Defensively, O'Hara, Schiemann, Griffin and Pych will lead us. The loss of Madej is huge. He was such a great player for us.
"Our schedule is brutal with JCA, Oswego and Mount Carmel to open up the season. We really would like to win the CCL again and know that after our schedule, we will be prepared for the playoffs and another run at a state championship."
CELTICS AT A GLANCE
2014 record: 13-1, 3-1 in Chicago Catholic Blue
Coach: Mark Coglianese
Offensive coordinator: Luke Senffner
Defensive coordinator: Jimmy Strimel
Returning offensive starters: OT Travis Woerner, OT Tom Younker, RB Richie Warfield, WR Mike Markasovic, WR Connor Creed, PK PJ Kowaokowski
Returning defensive starters: LB Brendan O'Hara, NG Tyler Schiemann, CB Nate Griffin,
SS Zach Pych
August: 28 – JCA, 7:30 p.m.
September: 4 – at Oswego, 7:30 p.m.; 11– at Mount Carmel, 7:30 p.m at Gately Stadium; 18 – at Marmion, 7:30 p.m.; 25 – St. Rita, 7:30 p.m.
October: 2 – Loyola, 7:30 p.m.; 9 – at Bishop McNamara, 7:30 p.m.; 16 – at Brother Rice, 7:30 p.m.; 23 – Lake Forest Academy, 7:30 p.m.