Providence Hangs On – Injured Tigers Battle All-Day

Daily Herald article written by Bill Stone 11/15/2014 9:56 PM

When the Wheaton-Warrenville South football team faced tremendous odds at Providence on Saturday, senior Jasper Romero and the defense responded with arguably its best effort of the season.

The No. 1-seeded Celtics had scored at least 33 points in nine games and more than 40 six times. Quarterback Justin Hunniford had 39 touchdown passes and just 1 interception.

The No. 13-seeded Tigers allowed no TD passes with 2 interceptions, including Romero’s important snag at the goal line just before halftime.

“I just saw the ball and just wanted to go get it,” Romero said. “We did really well. I wish we could have done a little bit better to stop their offense.”

The Tigers’ memorable late-season run ended with a 23-6 loss in the Class 7A quarterfinals, but they were so close to pulling off yet another miraculous comeback after losing four of their first five games.

The Tigers (7-5) closed to 9-6 with 10:16 left after an 81-yard TD pass from backup quarterback Michael Stebbins to Keishawn Watson.

After a three-and-out on the Tigers’ next drive, Providence (11-1) responded with a 48-yard TD run by Mike Markasovic with 6:41 left. Richie Warfield added a 21-yard TD run with 1:43 to go after the Tigers turned the ball over on downs.

“Give credit to our defense, an outstanding defensive effort all year long,” WW South coach Ron Muhitch said.

“(After being) 1-4 do you know how close we were to turning this around and being in the semifinals? I feel bad for the kids because they worked extremely hard to get that back. Their backs were against the wall the last eight weeks, it seems like, and they’ve been playing really good football.”

The defense’s effort was critical, given the Tigers were minus their two key running backs most of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, J.J. Johnson was lost after injuring his collarbone, and right tackle Jamal Randel also was hurt but later returned. Mike Campos, nursing an ankle injury, could not continue after two first-quarter carries.

Starting quarterback Josh Prueter became the top rusher with 71 yards. He even moved to running back in the second half with Stebbins taking over at quarterback.

“(Stebbins) can throw the ball pretty well, and I think I’m a pretty good runner,” Prueter said. “That was my idea. I just wanted to do whatever I could to contribute, to help out.”

The Celtics, who meet No. 14 Mt. Carmel (8-4) in the state semifinals, played without Notre Dame-bound receiver Miles Boykin, who broke his finger in the second-round victory over St. Rita.

The Tigers’ defensive tone was set early when Providence reached the Tigers’ 24-yard line on its second drive but came away empty on downs. A leaping, stretching Parker Fuson knocked away a sure TD reception on third down.

Jake Kyllonen’s interception came at the start of the fourth quarter. Linebackers Tommy Vitale and Brett Miller made numerous tackles, and Jack Bucholz, Solomon Jackson and Anthony Melton had sacks.

“The defense has been known for being top notch. Against this team, an offensive powerhouse, we knew we had to step up even better than ever,” Vitale said. “This defensive effort was insane. Our (defensive backs) stepped up. It’s just the game didn’t go our way.”

Providence’s defense also was stingy, and senior defensive end Luis Vasquez accounted for most of the points in the first three quarters.

After Hunniford’s quick kick in a fourth-and-short situation put the Tigers at their 4, Vasquez made a first-down tackle in the end zone for a safety with 4.5 seconds left in the first quarter.

The game remained 2-0 until late in the third quarter. Vasquez stepped in front of a quick pass from Stebbins to Prueter and returned the interception 15 yards for a TD with 1:55 left in the period.

Providence has allowed 160 points this season, only four more than the Tigers, and just 24 in its last four victories. The Tigers had 205 total yards and 7 first downs.

“Obviously, we knew they’d have a great defense and they did, and maybe our defense was a little bit better today, got us some points and got us the lead,” Providence coach Mark Coglianese said. “The offense puts a lot of points on the board. Today it was the defense’s turn to answer the bell.”

The Tigers didn’t get a first down until Prueter scrambled for a 45-yard gain to the 34 midway through the second quarter.

Later, on third-and-2, Watson caught a 6-yard pass for first and goal at the 2. The Tigers then had three consecutive plays that lost yardage, and a 31-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.

The Tigers did not enter Celtics’ territory again until the TD pass, which Watson caught and then outran the coverage. After Markasovic’s TD, the Tigers reached the Providence 36 before Emmett Trost had a third-down sack and interception on fourth-and-10.

“Our best athletes in key positions, we had no replacements for,” Muhitch said. “With 10 minutes left we might have panicked a little bit offensively, but we just didn’t have the people to run the normal offense. We had to go to kind of a pickup offense.”

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