JOLIET – Senior running backs Keenan Hailey and Nick Iannantone combined to rush for 526 yards and eight touchdowns as Joliet Catholic Academy beat Highland, 55-21, Saturday to earn a spot in the 5A semifinals.
The Hilltoppers (8-4) will host Hillcrest on Saturday. Highland finished the season 11-1.
“Our offensive game plan was just to be more physical than them and faster than them, period,” said Hailey, who rushed for 318 yards on 32 carries and five touchdowns. “We had no idea [if JCA would be able to run on Highland]. We just played it out. Our first drive of running plays was successful, so we just kept on running the ball.”
Hailey scored on runs of 16 yards, 57 yards, 3 yards, 4 yards and 1 yard, respectively, as the Hilltoppers ran a total of 57 running plays. JCA only ran 61 plays.
Iannantone rushed for 208 yards on 17 carries. He scored on runs of 54 yards, 59 yards and 25 yards, respectively. JCA finished with 595 yards rushing and 636 yards of total offense.
“They are two special kids,” Hilltoppers’ coach Jake Jaworski said. “They’ve kind of carried the team throughout the year. Nick and Keenan are tough and physical and fast. They kind of have a little bit of everything. Both of those guys would tell you that it all starts up front with our five offensive linemen and our wings.”
The Hilltoppers led 7-0 and were driving for another score when quarterback Jordan Alvarez fumbled at the 1-yard line, and the Bulldogs recovered the football. Two plays later, Highland was at its own 35. JCA’s defense held the Bulldogs and forced a punt.
JCA drove 88 yards in eight plays to take a 14-0 lead on Hailey’s 16-yard touchdown run. The Bulldogs were chasing two scores the rest of the game.
Highland, which came into the game with a high-powered offense behind quarterback Jack Etter, running back Brady Feldmann and Division I receiver recruit Sam LaPorta, managed to collect 388 yards of total offense.
No sooner had the Bulldogs cut the JCA lead to 21-14 with 57 seconds to play in the second quarter, the Hilltoppers answered. JCA drove 65 yards in five plays and punched in a score with five seconds left in the first half on a Hailey 3-yard run to make it 28-14.
JCA received the second-half kickoff and drove 61 yards in eight plays. Hailey scored on a 4-yard-run to make it 35-14 with 8:16 to play in the third quarter.
“You can’t play from behind against a team like this,” Highland coach Jim Warnecke Jr. said. “They are going to stay in their element and do their thing. Ultimately, we weren’t able to slow down their running game. You tip your hat to them. We had no answer.”
JCA defensive lineman Scott Fosen led the defensive effort. He recorded four of the Hilltoppers’ five sacks of Etter. JCA defensive back Jabril Williams and linebacker Fernando Chavez intercepted the Bulldogs’ quarterback.
“We wanted to stop their run, their screen and just keep battling, and we did all that,” Fosen said.