Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tommy Fuessel (18) runs to the outside as Benet defenders Jack Toner (2) and Tim Veselik (44) close in on him. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 19, 2012 1:26PM
After Lincoln-Way East beat Benet Academy, 37-13, in the Class 7A state semifinals Saturday night in Lisle, three of the stars of the game reflected on the 2005 season when they were fifth graders.
That was the last time the Griffins made it to the state championship game and won the Class 8A state title.
“I went to almost every game and we were down in Champaign with them,” said quarterback Tom Fuessel, who threw for 143 yards and a touchdown and ran for 98 yards and two TDs against Benet. “We want to relive that. We were sitting in the stands. Back then it was a dream. Now it’s a goal.”
Nick Colangelo, a senior running back who carried the ball 38 times for 198 yards and two TDs against Benet, had a different experience that year.
“I was going to the playoff games but then I got sick and didn’t go down to Champaign,” he said. “But I was watching it home on TV. It was rough. But now we’re going back. I’ll try my best not to get sick this week.”
“I totally remember buying the [state championship] shirt,” added Sean Doherty, who picked off two passes against the Redwings. “Being in that moment…and now us doing it is the greatest thing ever.”
East (13-0) takes on Glenbard West (13-0) for the 7A title Saturday in Champaign. The Griffins faced Glenbard West just one time in their history and suffered a 42-28 setback in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs in 2010 in Glen Ellyn.
This is just the second time East made it to the state title game — the first came in 2005 when it won the class 8A crown with a 30-24 double overtime win over Maine South.
The Griffins owned a 31-0 lead and a 352-34 yardage advantage at halftime Saturday night and held the Redwings to minus-1 yards on the ground.
When Benet’s defense had Fuessel in the most trouble, he delivered his most lethal blows.
When the Griffins faced a third-and-22 from their 45 on their first drive, he broke free of two sack attempts and threw a 29-yard completion to keep a scoring drive alive.
On their fourth drive, the Griffins had a third-and-13 at their own 17 and he was in trouble as two Redwings defenders were bearing down on him. He reversed the field for an 83-yard TD run to help give his team a three-touchdown lead in front of an estimated crowd of 5,000 at Benedictine University in Lisle.
“I work hard on my leg strength,” Fuessel said of escaping after contact. “It’s also determination. Do it for your teammates because they do the same for you.”
Heading into this season, East never had a 1,000-yard rusher. Fuessel is at 1,498 after Saturday’s action and Colangelo is at 1,049.
Benet ended its season at 11-2, which was a huge turnaround from the 1-8 campaign in 2011.