By Mark Maxwell
In an absolute thriller, Stillman Valley won the Class 3A state championship 43-41 in overtime, defeating St. Joseph-Ogden on a game-ending sack.
Stillman Valley coach Mike Lalor won his fifth state title in 16 years, extending his record to 159-37. This may have been one of his hardest fought victories as he led his team to come from behind and take this win from the opponent in dramatic fashion.
Both offenses were very different, but both very effective. Stillman Valley led with a heavy offensive line and a packed backfield, often lining up in the triple-I formation. The Spartans chose to spread their offense out, usually with four wide receivers on the field.
The first half ended in a tie, after both teams scored 14 points. The second half turned out to be a dramatic back-and-forth battle. Stillman Valley running back Zac Hare made his presence known, rushing for 4 touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the win.
Both sidelines enjoyed great success on fourth down, converting a combined total of nine fourth downs in the game and delaying the first punt of the second half until there was only 35 seconds remaining in regulation.
Stillman Valley drove 60 yards and chewed up over four minutes of the game clock right before punching in a short yardage touchdown carry to tie the game with 1:19 remaining in regulation.
Assisted by a costly offsides penalty called against the Spartans, the Cardinals took the opening possession of the extra frame into the end zone. They put an exclamation point on the score by adding a successful two-point conversion. The gutsy call gave them a 43-35 lead and a chance to win the state title on defense.
The Spartans their overtime offense facing a daunting first-and-twenty-seven after being flagged for their second overtime penalty. Quarterback Dalton Walsh evaded multiple would-be tacklers and converted the first down on the first play. Two plays later, they punched in a touchdown of their own with running back Connor Janes. Janes also scored the first touchdown of the game for the Spartans. However, Walsh couldn't evade the Cardinals defense a second time as Stillman Valley brought intense pressure on a blitz. The Cardinals completed the come-from-behind win by sacking Walsh for a big loss.
The last time a state finals game went to overtime, Wheaton Warrenville South outlasted Glenbard West 31-24 in double overtime at the 2009 Class 7A finals.