The High­land Bull­dogs will play the Joliet Catholic Hill­top­pers

Belleville News-Democrat - - Front Page - BY DEAN CRIDDLE dcrid­dle@bnd.com

The aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity that was once theirs alone when it came to Illi­nois high school foot­ball has less­ened con­sid­er­ably in the past decade.

It’s been 11 years since the Joliet Catholic Hill­top­pers won the last of their record 13 state cham­pi­onships. The school and foot­ball pro­gram which pro­duced Rudy Ruet­tiger, whose real life story was the ba­sis of the 1993 foot­ball movie “Rudy,” last reached the Class 5A state semi­fi­nals in 2012 and failed to earn an IHSA play­off bid the past two years be­fore just get- ting in this sea­son with a 5-4 record.

But they are still the Joliet Catholic Hill­top­pers and Satu­day they will be the team stand­ing in the way of the un­de­feated and sec­ond-seeded High­land Bull­dogs’ quest for a Class 5A quar­ter­fi­nal win and sec­ond straight state semi­fi­nal play­off berth.

“It’s a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to play a foot­ball pro­gram that has a lot of tra­di­tion and has had a lot of suc­cess. Just like it was last year when we played Rochester in the Class 4A semi,’’ High­land coach Jim War­necke said fol­low­ing prac­tice on Wed­nes­day. “It should be a great foot­ball game. They have an ex­cel­lent team and we have an ex­cel­lent team. We’re look­ing for­ward to play­ing a good foot­ball game and hope­fully reach­ing the state semi­fi­nals for the sec­ond year in a row next week. This time at home.’’

While Joliet Catholic ( 7-4) is mak­ing its 40th play­off ap­pear­ance and has played for state cham­pi­onships 17 times, High- land can qual­ify for the state semi­fi­nals for the third time in school his­tory on Satur­day. Led by all-state run­ning back Billy Green­wald, High­land reached the 1989 Class 4A semi­fi­nal un­der coach Mike Hooker where it lost to Mor­ris 40-14.

Then last year, led by record­set­ting quar­ter­back and NewsDemo­crat Small school of­fen­sive player of the year Gar­rett Marti, High­land won its first 12 games be­fore fall­ing to even­tual Class 4A state cham­pion Rochester (31-14) in a semi­fi­nal on a cold, icy Satur­day in cen­tral Illi­nois.

A Class 4A all-state wide re­ceiver a year ago, Bull­dogs se­nior Sam La­Porta will be look­ing for­ward to a NCAA Di­vi­sion I col­lege foot­ball next sea­son. The 6-4, 215-pound La­Porta has schol­ar­ship of­fers from sev­eral schools in­clud­ing North­ern Iowa, SIU-Car­bon­dale, Eastern Michi­gan and Yale.

But La­Porta isn’t think­ing about col­lege or schol­ar­ship of­fers right now.

“We’re ready to go on Satur­day,’’ La­Porta said Wed­nes­day. “We’re more pre­pared this year. The se­niors, we’ve been to­gether for a long time. We know what to ex­pect and we’re fo­cused on one op­po­nent at a time. Our fo­cus this week is Joliet Catholic and go­ing up and play­ing a good foot­ball game.

“Re­cruit­ing is still the same ... There will be time for that in a few weeks.’’

The road play­off game is just the sec­ond in two years for the Bull­dogs.

High­land won three straight play­off games at home last year be­fore be­ing bounced by Rochester. This sea­son, af­ter rolling through an un­de­feated reg­u­lar sea­son which in­cluded a third straight Mis­sis­sippi Val­ley Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, the Bull­dogs have de­feated Rich Cen­tral 61-21 and Mat­toon 56-35 in the play­offs the last two weeks. Both games were in High­land.

To pre­pare for Joliet Catholic, High­land prac­ticed on ar­ti­fi­cial turf at Mater Dei on Wed­nes­day.

JODY BECKER

Se­nior Brady Feld­mann and High­land will face Joliet Catholic in the Class 5A quar­ter­fi­nals.

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