By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
The Phillips Wildcats for the third year in a row will be heading to the Class 5A championship game on Thanksgiving weekend after defeating Sterling 27-14 last Saturday. Phillips will take on Dunlap, who defeated Washington 21-0 in their semifinal game. The game will be played at Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University on Nov. 25 at 10 a.m.
The Wildcats remained unbeaten by defeating a Sterling (12-1) team that played their hearts out and were playing in their first ever state semifinal game. Sterling’s first touchdown came on a Nyrel Sullivan 45-yard reception from Trey Morse after Sterling’s defense stopped Phillips on fourth down. It gave Sterling a 7-6 lead going into the half.
But after that it was all Phillips as the Wildcats offense proved to be too much. A 7-yard touchdown pass from J’Bore Gibbs to Jahleel Billingsley in the second half after an interception by Abreon Holmes got Phillips rolling again. Gibbs would later run for another two scores and finished the day with two TD runs and passes.
“I thought we played a good game, but not our best,” said Phillips coach Troy McAllister. “But when you get to this round of the state playoffs you are going against the best teams and they can challenge you in ways you haven’t been challenged before.”
Phillips’ defense held Sterling to 192 yards in total offense. The speed of the Wildcats defensive line has been giving teams problems all year. The Phillips defense gave their offense a short field to work with as two Wildcats interceptions gave them the ball deep in Sterling territory. Sterling’s coach Jon Schlemmer said when a team like Phillips gets that kind of an advantage you are just asking for trouble.
“They’re just a really good football team,” Schlemmer said. “They did really good things offensively, defensively. They give you so many tough looks. I thought our kids played extremely hard, they just came up short.”
Sterling scored off of a 10-yard fumble recovery for their final points of the season. Phillips responded with a 57-yard passing TD from Gibbs to Joseph Thompson to close out the scoring.
Raby was attempting to make it to their first championship game in school history. But those dreams were dashed by a tough Morris team, which controlled the game from the start and won 43-8. Despite the loss, Raby became the first West Side team to advance to a state semifinal. That piece of history was not lost on the players or their coaching staff. This season invigorated the school and community, Coach D’angelo Dereef told the Crusader last week. He believes his program is headed in the right direction and this year’s team has brought positive media coverage to the school and neighborhood.