Libertyville falls to Glenbard West in thrilling state championship
The 13-0 Libertyville Wildcats took on the 13-0 Glenbard West Hilltoppers on Saturday in what turned out to be an instant classic. After a back-and-forth affair, Glenbard West was able to put together a long, eight-minute drive that allowed the Hilltoppers to take the lead for the rest of the contest and hoist the 7A Championship trophy.
Sam Brodner, a Vanderbilt commit, led the Hilltoppers to a 34-28 victory with his 264 yards (a 7A final record) on 28 carries and 4 TDs. His combination of strength, speed, and agility was too much for even the Wildcats’ strong defense to handle, as he broke off various tackles and turned broken plays into first-down conversions.
Although the end result was not favorable for the Wildcats, they proved that they belonged and put up a valiant effort.
In his last game in a Libertyville uniform, senior Riley Lees was spectacular yet again. Although over half of his total yards on the season came on the ground, Lees relied on his arm on Saturday, as he completed 19 of 28 passing attempts for 232 yards and 4 TDs, including a 55-yard bomb throwing across his body to senior receiver Cam Shaffer late in the second quarter.
Glenbard West struggled to hold onto the football throughout the contest, losing the ball four times and turning over possession to the Wildcats on two of those. However, the Wildcats were prone to turnovers as well, as Lees’ two interceptions both resulted in Hilltopper touchdowns. The first of the two occurred towards the end of the of the first half with the Wildcats driving. After a Lees pass was tipped by receiver Timmy Calamari, Glenbard West’s Justice Bradley corralled the deflection and ran 99 yards into the end zone. The return was called back, however, on an illegal block in the back by the Hilltoppers. Nonetheless, the turnover proved to be costly, as Brodner and the Hilltoppers were able to march down the field and score before the half. If not for the interception, the Cats could have realistically taken a 28-14 lead and maintained all the momentum.
Isaiah Skinner, a 5-9, 175-pound scatback for Glenbard West, came up huge on the big stage. Skinner had 148 all-purpose yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter.
The game was played very evenly throughout the night; at halftime, Libertyville and Glenbard West had 212 and 227 total yards, respectively, along with 10 first downs each and a score of 21-20 in the Cats’ favor. The third quarter proved to be critical to the Hilltoppers’ victory. Despite three false start penalties, Glenbard West was able to dominate time of possession and the pace of the game, tiring out the Libertyville defense in the process and keeping the explosive Libertyville offense off the field. The almost nine-minute drive concluded with Skinner’s touchdown.
Although he didn’t match the flare and excitement of Lees, Hilltopper quarterback Brian Cochrane was efficient in the passing game. Cochrane was 8-of-11 for 88 yards and looked poised and under control in the pocket.
Libertyville’s offense was able to advance down the field pretty much the whole game. Time after time, Lees was able to connect with the talented trio of receivers Shaffer, Calamari, and Henry Schmidt for gains of about eight or nine yards.
The Wildcats experienced one last glimmer of hope when Lees threw a touchdown strike to Schmidt with 6:33 left to go, which brought them to within six. However, the defense was unable to stop Brodner and the Hilltopper offense, as they converted on a vital fourth-and-one play which effectively ended the game.
Despite the disappointing ending, the 2015 campaign will go on record to be one of Libertyville’s greatest; this was only the third 13-win season in school history.
The team will be losing key players to graduation, as Lees is headed to Northwestern and star defensive end Ben Kimpler is headed to Miami of Ohio. Junior Jack Ruskell will have big shoes to fill, as the 6-3 pro-style quarterback will hope to be the next on a recently long line of talented Libertyville quarterbacks.