DEKALB – Whenever a football team is experiencing an historic season, not only for its program but also for its school, the perfect ending is obviously a state championship.
But the IHSA playoffs aren't written by a Hollywood screenwriter and a squad that's won a title one season is quite happy to repeat at the expense of spoiling a great story.
Such was the case for Lincoln-Way West against a talented and speedy Nazareth Academy squad in Saturday's Class 5A finals at Northern Illinois University's Huskie Stadium.
The Roadrunners grabbed a 42-0 lead early in the second half before the Warriors scored the final 21 points in their school's first-ever appearance in a state title contest in any sport.
While coach Dave Ernst and his 11-3 team were disappointed that they weren't able to claim the big trophy, the four captains – Bryan Brokop, Gabe Montalvo, Dan Wainwright and Justin Witt – were proud of their season and the foundation that they've helped lay for West.
"It stinks not to win, but I'm proud of all of my brothers on this team," Brokop said. "We have a bunch of high-caliber and high-character guys. It didn't end the way that we wanted, but it was fun. It was fun going to practice and getting after it every day with these boys."
After pulling off the rare accomplishment of winning each of its first four playoff games by increasingly larger margins, the Warriors ran into a buzzsaw against a Nazareth squad that piled up 424 yards in the opening half and an even 500 yards for the contest.
"I'm proud of each and every one of these guys that I play with and they gave 110 percent on every snap," Wainwright said. "They left everything on the field and that's all that you can ask for from a team. It was always our goal to get here and being seniors, we just wanted to create a legacy here.
"I'll remember all of the guys that I played with, especially the rest of the D-linemen. They're a great group of guys who love to play football. That's all that I could have ever asked for."
West entered the season having never gotten beyond the quarterfinals but made history by beating Peoria in the quarterfinals and Champaign Central in the semifinals to advance further than all other Warriors teams in any sport. But Nazareth was very impressive as it added to its Class 6A championship from a year ago.
"It's good for the juniors, sophomores and freshmen to see how hard you have to work to get here," Witt said. "I think we set a good note on what you have to do to make it here. The team that we played is a good, respectable team and if we face any team downstate, it had to be them since I thought that they were the best team in the other bracket.
"To be the first team to make it here from our school put a lot on our shoulders but we have a good group of guys who didn't worry about that. Until you get out there and see the first snap and how fast things are, you don't understand how hard you have to work to get here."
And while Montalvo can be understandably pleased of rushing for nearly 2500 yards and 41 touchdowns this year, he was more proud of just being a part of this special squad.
"I'm just happy that I was on this team and I love every single one of these guys," Montalvo said. "We had a great season and were the first team in Lincoln-Way West history to make it to state. And later one other teams can make it to state and hopefully win it.
"Everyone on our team is super-close and we were like a family and just all played well together. I'm just happy that we were able to make it here. I'll remember being the first team from West to make it to state and also being here with these guys."