NEW LENOX – Seeking their school’s biggest victory ever not only in their sport but in any sport, Lincoln-Way West’s football team made it clear from the outset of Saturday’s Class 5A quarterfinal home game with Peoria it wasn’t going to be denied.
The Warriors grabbed a 17-0 lead after one quarter and never let the Lions get any closer than 10 points back as they went on to capture a 40-13 win, becoming the first West program to advance to the state semifinals.
West (10-2) will meet Champaign Central (11-1) on Saturday at Champaign Centennial, with the winner earning a spot in the Class 5A championship Nov. 28 in DeKalb.
“I’m proud of these guys, and they’re a great group of kids that’s fun to be around every day,” coach Dave Ernst said. “Peoria was a good team with a class group of kids. The scoreboard may not show it, but it wasn’t easy. Their tailback didn’t play, and he’s scary. So when No. 6 (Jaleen James) had to play tailback, it took a little something away from their defense, since he defended the run real well.”
Gabe Montalvo gained 265 yards on 34 carries and scored on runs of 1, 15, 3, 71 and 44 yards to lead the Warriors offense. He has rushed for 2,028 yards this season and scored 33 touchdowns for the Warriors.
“Gabe’s a wrestler, and wrestlers are different dudes, but we’ll take them on our team any day.” Ernst said. “He’s a tough guy who wants to win, and if you ask him how many yards or touchdowns he had, he couldn’t tell you. He only cares about winning. And as long as our offensive line keeps beating on you and staying physical, the three-yard runs in the first quarter become five in the second and eight in the third, and we start popping them in the fourth.”
Peoria (10-2) failed on two fourth-and-long situations and fumbled in the first quarter, which gave West three straight series in which its average start was at the Lions’ 35.
With the wind at their backs, the Warriors got a 1-yard run from Montalvo for their first score, and he added a 15-yard scamper late in the quarter. In between those touchdowns, Kevin Siemeck booted a 22-yard field goal.
The Lions failed on two more long fourth-down situations in the second quarter, but West was unable to score as it maintained the 17-point advantage at the break.
Deven Reed led West with 10 tackles, while Josh Bohne had nine, Danny Allen and Jake Price were in on seven stops each, Dan Wainwright made six tackles, and Trey Telez added five. Matthew Murphy and Price each recovered a fumble.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Reed said. “We’re pumped about being in the semis, but we want to go all the way. We practice hard, and our thing is that we fly around with 11 hats to the ball and we get it done. We’re really well-coached, talented up front, our linebackers fill the gaps, and our DBs stick their guys up, so it’s really hard to not do good.”
Peoria finally got on the scoreboard on its first series of the second half when Jaleen James (19 carries, 122 yards) ran in from a yard out with 8:13 left in the third. But on the Lions’ next possession, the defensive line blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety.
Montalvo scored from three yards out two plays into the final quarter to make it 26-7. The Warriors senior back capped two-play drives with long scoring runs, while James ran in again from a yard out to cap the scoring for Peoria, which had averaged 47 points a game.
After finishing with 188 yards and three scores on 16 carries in the final half, Montalvo credited his offensive line of Nathaniel Henry, Brett Bergman, Jason Lucinski, Bryan Brokop and Justin Witt for his big performance.
“Coach keeps telling us that we’re the best team in Lincoln-Way West history, and that’s pretty exciting,” Montalvo said. “But our goal is to not just make it to the next round or the finals, but to win it. We wanted to make this game for the other teams that made it to the quarterfinals. We wanted to show them that what they did was worth it.”
Also for West, quarterback Connor Lowman was 17 of 24 for 131 yards, while Ben Zordani caught seven passes for 56 yards and Dylan McHale had five receptions for 34 yards.
“It’s nice to get over that quarterfinal hump,” Brokop said. “We know that we have the group of guys who can do it, we work hard and play for each other. We all have that one goal in mind, and we’re going to get it done. Our line all gets along, and we’re like a brotherhood. It also helps that we’re big and strong and have good chemistry.”