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Lincoln-Way East's Nick Colangelo makes a big gain. | Allen Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
If Lincoln-Way East is not the best team in the Class 7A state playoffs, you would have a difficult time convincing Providence.
The No. 4 Griffins rode their quick-strike ability on offense and superb defense to a 16-0 halftime lead and never were seriously threatened Saturday en route to a 24-14 victory over the Celtics in a second-round showdown in Frankfort.
Lincoln-Way East (11-0), which avoided a Round 2 ouster for the first time in five years, will host next weekend’s quarterfinal against Edwardsville.
The Griffins entered the game knowing that as much of a weapon senior quarterback Tom Fuessel is, they could not fall into the trap of relying too much on him. And they knew they had to win the field position game with their defense and special teams.
Fuessel rushed for 84 yards and was 6-of-10 for 98 yards. His 54-yard scamper set up his own six-yard run for the first touchdown. He then hit Justin Corbett on a pass in the flat for a 49-yard touchdown and a 16-0 lead.
Senior running back Nick Colangelo provided a solid alternative to Fuessel, rushing for 164 yards in 20 carries.
“Nick had a great game,” Fuessel said of Colangelo. “Get him the ball and special things happen. He helped us beat a great defensive team, a great all-around team. We have a lot of respect for them.”
“Our offensive line is the best around,” Colangelo said. “They’re all all-staters in my mind. I’m blessed to play with them.”
East’s field position was such that the Griffins recorded two safeties, the second on a Scott Kresel sack in the fourth quarter. Those four points became important when Providence (8-3) tried to come back late on the passing combination of Dominic Lagone and sophomore receiver Miles Boykin, who caught five passes for 87 yards.
Outside of those connections, however, Providence’s offense couldn’t solve the East defense, spearheaded by linebackers Adam O’Grady, Kyle Langenderfer and Mitch Murphy. Celtics standout tailback Brandon Price was limited to 35 yards on 19 carries and had only two runs of more than three yards. O’Grady went over the top to stop Price for no gain on a fourth-and-1 at the East 2-yard line to end Providence’s only threat in the first half.
“Our inexperience at quarterback showed tonight in this type of environment and against that great a defense,” Providence coach Mark Coglianese said. “It’s hard to get points when you’re never breaking any big plays.
“Even when we started getting the ball to Boykin, he’s a big threat, a big weapon, but that’s not our game plan. We want to run the ball and we couldn’t.”
East limited Providence to 59 total yards while establishing its dominance in the first half.
“We were never more prepared for a game than we were this one,” O’Grady said. “I almost think we were over-prepared. But there was never a doubt we could come out here and get it done.”
“Our kids worked very, very hard for 11 months to have a chance to compete in this game,” Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said. “They sold out for 11 months.
“I love them.”