FOOTBALL: Bishop McNamara earns trip to state with thrilling win over Rochester
KANKAKEE — For the ninth time in school history, Bishop McNamara is in a state championship game.
Powered behind the game of a lifetime from Tyshon King, the Irish found themselves on the right end of a shootout for the ages, knocking off Rochester with a 52-42 victory at Memorial Field on Saturday.
“We’ve said it the whole year, that we had to come out with the mentality that we’re the best,” King said. “When we came together in June, we had one mission, and that was to be playing in Champaign on Nov. 23 at 7 o’clock.”
The Irish earned that trip to Champaign by knocking off a Rochester program that had won seven of the past eight IHSA Class 4A State Championships. And that was due in large part to King, who tallied an eye-popping 337 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries.
“They could have given me 80 (carries), I was going to do whatever I had to do for my team to win this game,” King said. “People can say I put the team on my back, but (fullback) Owen Jackson had a hell of a game; our (offensive) line played a hell of a game; our defense played a hell of a game; (quarterback) Tyler Hiller was the player of the game.
“These guys make it so easy for me and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone in the world.”
Ironically, the game was scoreless after a quarter. Ethan Perakis intercepted Rochester quarterback Clay Bruno on the first drive of the game and the two teams exchanged punts to start a game that looked like it was shaping up to be a defensive battle.
But then the real fun began in the second quarter. After King’s first touchdown, a one-yard plunge, the Rockets took just 2:47 to respond when Bruno kept it for a six-yard score. On the second play of the ensuing Irish drive, King broke a tackle and accelerated 79 yards to make it 14-7.
“We’ve had some good tailbacks here and he’s right there at the top,” Irish coach Rich Zinanni said of King. “He’s a load, he makes people miss, breaks tackles, has a great attitude, he’s tough.
“He’s just a great player and he wows us every time.”
The two teams exchanged touchdowns before the half, with the Irish taking a 21-14 lead to the locker room. They doubled that lead on the first drive of the second half when King scored another one-yard touchdown.
The Rockets returned the favor with a one-yard score from Jackson Schaller, and after an Irish punt, tied it at 28 on an 83-yard touchdown from Bruno to Cade Ellington, the duo’s second touchdown hookup of the evening.
Thanks to quarterback Tyler Hiller, the Irish were able to take the lead right back. The junior signal-caller hurled a bomb to Wilson Netherton, who beat his man in one-on-one coverage and broke free for a 72-yard touchdown.
The Rockets tied it up again just 47 seconds later on another one-yard run, this time from Justin DuRocher. But King and the Irish would not accept anything less than victory.
King’s fourth touchdown was arguably his most impressive of the afternoon. After trucking over a Rockets defender, he broke free from another tackle and danced 37 yards to give the Irish a 42-35 lead.
The Rockets fumbled a snap on the next possession and Dimond Brooks recovered to give the Irish prime field position. Four plays later, Zinanni sent kicker Preston Lade out for a 22-yard field goal attempt, which was anything but a guarantee on the sloppy playing surface.
But Zinanni’s faith in his senior kicker paid off, as Lade’s kick was true and the Irish extended their lead back to double digits at 45-35.
“When we lined up for that field goal, that was to win the game, and it was wet, but we have the best long snapper in Logan Johnson and a great holder in (Hiller),” Zinanni said. “Lade’s a great kicker and I have real good confidence in that group.”
After the Rockets gave it back to the Irish on downs with five minutes left, it appeared as if the Irish were going to drain as much clock as possible and play defense.
But Zinanni and offensive coordinator Jack Roney shocked the stadium when they called a play action pass. The reward was worth the risk, as the Rockets blitzed their entire defense, which left Hiller with multiple options open down the field.
He settled for tight end Logan Johnson, who caught it and ran 46 yards untouched to seal the deal for the Irish.
“I had no idea I was going to catch a touchdown pass; that usually isn’t in the gameplan, it’s usually just block, block, block,” Johnson said. “After I caught it, I just listened to everyone in the stands; ‘run, run, run.’”
The Rockets took advantage of a conservative Irish defense and cut the lead to 52-42, but once the Irish recovered the onside kick with 10 seconds left, the game was over.
“We’re a great football team; we come out every week and execute,” Hiller said. “Coach (Zinanni) talked about how big executing would be—no turnovers, no penalties. We had some holes in our game last week, but we came out and fixed them today.”
Hiller was 5-for-7 for 182 yards and three touchdowns, while he also added 27 yards on four carries. Owen Jackson had two catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. In addition to the touchdown reception, Johnson also recovered a fumble.
Bruno was 16-for-27 for 317 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. He added 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Eddington had six catches for 162 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Irish will travel to Champaign for the IHSA Class 4A State Championship at 7 p.m. against Immaculate Conception at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois. The Irish will look to win their sixth championship in school history, all under Zinanni.
“We never know if we’re (Class) 3A or 4A, but it doesn’t matter to me at all, and I think we proved my point, which is that we’re a good football team,” Zinanni said. “The best teams in 4A are Rochester and Immaculate Conception, and we feel like we’re right there with them.”
The Irish and Knights squared off earlier this season, a game the Knights won 21-20 on a Hail Mary with 16 seconds left to hand the Irish their only loss of the season.
“After the (Immaculate Conception) game, we knew we could do it and knew this could be our year,” Hiller said. “Ever since then, we’ve been wanting a rematch.”