Forreston’s AJ Christensen (41) rushes against Decatur St. Teresa during the Class 1A state championship Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. (Bradley Leeb/AP)
Forreston came into Friday morning’s Class 1A state championship as one of the top rushing teams in state history.
Decatur St. Teresa slowed the Cardinals for a while, but Forreston kept at it and finished with 368 rushing yards in a 35-7 win at Memorial Stadium.
"Early in the game their defensive end was riding our tight end down," Forreston coach Denny Diduch explained. "Once we were able to locate that player, we were able to get the kick-out block we needed."
The Cardinals (14-0) won their second state title in three years, also winning in Champaign in 2014.
Forreston entered the game with 4,920 rushing yards, a top-10 total in state history according to the IHSA, good for an average of 378 per game. St. Teresa (12-2) held the Cardinals to 33 yards on their first 10 carries.
In the middle of the second quarter, a play-action pass from Hunter Daws to wide-open tight end Sam Barkalow went for a 54-yard touchdown and seemed to open things up for the rest of the game.
"We always surprise teams when we pass," said Daws, who passed three times compared with his team’s 67 rushing attempts from the Wing-T.
"I knew it would be open," Barkalow said. "It was just up to me to not drop it."
St. Teresa answered with its own big play, a 67-yard scoring pass from Ryan Fyke to Simon Brinkoetter that tied the score 7-7. Forreston’s AJ Christensen took the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a score, and the Cardinals never looked back.
"The kick return was the backbreaker," St. Teresa coach Mark Ramsey said.
Second-half rushing touchdowns from Matt Akins, Gavin Fuchs and Christensen turned a competitive game into a comfortable win for the Cardinals.
Jacardia Wright, St. Teresa’s star sophomore who entered the game with 2,485 rushing yards, was held to 46 yards on 16 carries. The Bulldogs were stopped twice on fourth-and-goal in the first half.
"They’re quick to the ball and great tacklers," Ramsey said. "If one guy missed a tackle, they had another guy right there."
Players of the game: AJ Christensen, Forreston, 183 rushing yards, TD, 93-yard kick return TD.
Key performers: Forreston — Sam Barkalow, 54-yard TD reception; Gavin Fuchs, 9 tackles. St. Teresa — Ryan Fyke, 19-40 passing, 209 yards; Stanley Rogers, 10 tackles.