By Mark Maxwell
For the first time in state history, a father and son coaching duo have hoisted a state championship trophy in the same weekend. Ken Leonard, coach of the Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones, joined his son Derek Leonard, coach of the Rochester Rockets, as he led the Cyclones to a 38-28 victory over the Montini Broncos on Saturday in the IHSA Class 5A state championship.
Montini opened up very strong, seizing a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. Bolstered by scoring plays from senior quarterback Alex Wills, senior wide receiver Connor Costello and an 82-yard kick return from senior wide receiver Derrick Curry, the Broncos sideline was optimistic about their chances to continue dominating the Class 5A state championship game. The Broncos were aiming to win their fifth consecutive title, a state record among active schools.
Then the best offense in state history began to go to work. Sparked by their junior quarterback Gabe Green, the Cyclones rallied to score 31 unanswered points. Green rushed for three touchdowns of 56, 17 and 6 yards, effectively controlling the game clock and contributing to the scoreboard. The Cyclones west coast style offense set state records in total points scored (744) and scoring average (53.1 ppg) throughout the 2013 season, scorching opponents secondaries all season long.
Playing from behind for most of the game, the Broncos set a state record of their own, throwing for 57 pass attempts. The Broncos attempted to fight back throughout the contest, but three second half turnovers eventually crippled their chance to defend the state title. Down 38-21 and facing Sacred Heart-Griffin's prevent defense, Alex Wills drove the field and capped off a scoring drive when he rushed in for a late touchdown with less than one minute remaining in the game.
Green met with Matt Rodewald and the Comcast SportsNet camera crew after the game to describe how it felt to topple the reigning champions.
"They (Montini) were the best team I have ever played in my life. It was crazy," he said. "It was great. We came together like brothers. There is nothing like it. That just shows the heart of our team, what we can overcome. I've never been happier. It's like the happiest, excitingest time of my life. Happiest because we just won the state championship, but saddest because I'll never play with the seniors again, who I grew up with."
Green will return for a senior season of his own where he will try to defend a state championship for the first time in his high school football career.