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Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell (6) runs in for a touchdown during Saturday's IHSA State Championship game between Crete-Monee and Cary-Grove high schools, hosted at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL. | Paul Bergstrom ~ For Sun-Times Media
The Southland’s football state championship drought officially is over.
Five long years had passed since a team from that region had hoisted a state championship trophy.
Trivia time: Which school claimed the honor?
Three seconds, two, one ... St. Rita, in 2006.
Other teams were close numerous times — five to be exact: Lemont (2007 and ’08), Providence (’09), Marist (’09) and Mount Carmel (’10). Each time, those teams settled for second place — still a marvelous accomplishment.
In 2011, the region was void of representation in Champaign.
Fortunately, Crete-Monee (Class 6A) and Mount Carmel (Class 8A) put the Southland’s championship-less streak to bed Saturday.
If there were any doubt that Crete-Monee, under coach Jerry Verde, had developed into a full-blown powerhouse program, Saturday’s 33-26 win over previously unbeaten Cary-Grove put those concerns to rest.
It was the first state title in the program’s history.
“It’s a great feeling,” Verde said. “But it’s going to take some time for this to sink in. You don’t understand the magnitude of it till years later. These guys will always be connected for life.”
For Mount Carmel, Saturday’s 28-14 win over Glenbard North was the program’s 11th title overall and 10th under legendary coach Frank Lenti.
Does it ever get old, Frank?
“No,” said Lenti, 326-59 during a 29-year career, with a wide grin. “It’s exciting. They’re all special in their own way. This team was all about ‘we’ and not ‘me.’ That’s what all the state championship teams have in common. The players put the team ahead of individual success.”
Without question, it takes a team effort to win a state championship.
But the performance Saturday by Crete-Monee’s Laquon Treadwell — how shall I say this? — caused quite a buzz in the press box.
In no way am I suggesting that Treadwell is bigger than the team or that the Warriors could not have accomplished the feat without him.
I know this for certain: It would have been far more difficult without No. 6 on the field.
Crete-Monee is a team full of outstanding players, a minimum of four who boast Division I skills. Treadwell, however, is one of those talents that comes along every 10 years or so.
Those skills were on full display on the state’s biggest stage. Whether watching inside Memorial Stadium or television, it didn’t take a person with the football acumen of Troy Aikman to realize Treadwell is special.
There’s a good chance we’re going to see the young man playing on Sundays one day if he maintains his work ethic and health. That’s not till after we watch him on ESPN competing on Saturdays at a yet-to-be-determined college.
“He’s unbelievable,” Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said.
I couldn’t have summed it up any better, coach.
Treadwell finished the 6A title game with 93 yards rushing, 85 yards receiving, two touchdowns, 12 tackles, an interception and averaged 41.5 yards on kickoffs.
Oh, he also kicked an extra point and had a 2-point conversion.
Someone asked me Saturday, “What doesn’t he do?”
“Fill water bottles,” I said.
On second thought, maybe he does that, too.
The school that lands Treadwell — be it Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Michigan State or Mississippi — is not only getting a wildly skilled player, but also a ferocious competitor.
“I don’t like to lose — in anything,” Treadwell said. “I enjoy playing on a big stage like this. The goal all season was to win a state championship, no matter where it’s played.”
It was the same goal of Lincoln-Way East, which had to settle for bridesmaid status, losing 10-8 to Glenbard West in Class 7A. It was the Griffins’ first loss of the season, and it was a tough one.
I would have liked to have seen East establish its passing game, which would have benefited its vaunted running attack.
What can’t be disputed, however, is the toughness of quarterback Tom Fuessel. The young man took a beating, but kept going like the Energizer bunny.
It wasn’t until the clock was winding down to zero on the game’s final play when Fuessel could no longer stand straight and was removed from the game.
The hit he took on the 6-yard line on a fourth-and-10 scramble late in the game was similar to a Ferrari hitting a viaduct. Scratch that. The Ferrari would have been totaled.
Somehow — I’d argue an extraordinary will to win and toughness — allowed Fuessel to get up and return to play.
“He’s one tough kid,” East coach Rob Zvonar said. “He’s a champion in my eyes.”
Tough to argue that.