NORMAL – With the defenses dominating throughout most of Saturday’s Class 6A football playoff opener between Providence Catholic and Normal West, the eventual winner figured to be the one that made the most big plays in crunch time.
Thanks in part to the efforts of players such as quarterback Kevin Conway, wide receiver Lucas Porto and running back Aaron Vaughn, the Celtics came up with enough big plays to help them rally in the final quarter and eventually claim a 19-14 victory over a Normal West squad that had scored 60 or more points twice and was averaging more than 36 points a game.
That come-from-behind victory assured coach Mark Coglianese’s 7-3 Celtics of a home game next week against 10-0 Crete-Monee, who won 50-14 over Bremen.
Conway threw two touchdown passes of 30 or more yards to Porto, capped off his day by getting a rushing touchdown in the final quarter and later made several big runs in clutch situations as the Celtics wound down the clock to secure a hard-earned win.
“Lucas was due for a breakout game,” Coglianese said. “I know the talent that he has and it was just a matter of giving our quarterback some time and taking our shots with him.
“Both teams moved the ball a little bit, but no one could get in a groove and there was nothing consistent. But they hit a couple of big passes and we did the same.
“When we went to wildcat [formation], that gave us some energy and we moved the ball. I’m pretty happy to have held them to 14 points with our defense kind of beat up. Every time we needed something, the kids responded. Our kids didn’t quit, so I give them all kinds of credit.”
Vaughn helped the Celtics’ cause in a big way by rushing for 148 yards on 19 carries, much of that total coming in the opening half.
Following a scoreless third quarter, the Celtics took a 13-7 lead seven seconds into the fourth quarter when Conway tossed a 34-yard pass to Porto (5-126 receiving).
“It was a long time coming,” Porto said. “Me and Kevin were working at practice a lot this week in just getting the connection right. It took some people to step up and we got the job done. It was an all-around team effort.”
The Wildcats (7-3) answered by taking a 14-13 lead with 10:47 left after Carson Camp (14-for-26, 136 yards passing, 13-66 rushing) tossed a 37-yard scoring pass to LeTre Billups.
But the Celtics responded to that score just over three minutes later. Conway (9-15 passing for 160 yards, 13-54 rushing) ran in from 11 yards out with 7:27 left in the game.
“Once we started to get going, it worked out. And at the end of the day, we scored more than them, which is all that matters,” Conway said. “We started off real slow, which we have to fix for next week when we have to come out hard right away.”
Camp got his first touchdown pass for 7 yards to Cole Hernandez to put his team up 7-0 with 10:13 left in the opening half. The Celtics evened things at 7-7 with 1:07 left before the break when Conway and Porto hooked up for the first time for 32 yards.
“We wanted to get the quarterback out of the pocket,” said Anthony Prucha, who had two sacks. “We didn’t want him to have time and we had to keep defending their receivers. We knew as long as he was scrambling he couldn’t get the ball in the air.”