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Maine West fend off Benet for first ever state playoff victory

What a difference a year makes.

Last season the Maine West football program had a historic year making the state playoffs for the first time since 2002 while scoring more points than they ever had in a state playoff game, but ultimately fell to Benet.

Not content with their previous by their success, the Warriors took another step forward on Friday night in Des Plaines.

Led by a swarming defense, timely passing, and superb special teams play, the Warriors won their first state playoff game in school history by defeating the Benet Redwings 20-18 and avenging their loss from a year ago.

Much like last year’s game, after receiving the opening kickoff Maine West went three and out and were forced to punt which was promptly followed by a Benet drive.

After driving deep into Maine West territory, the Benet drive stalled and a momentum shifting fumble, forced by defensive end Emmanuel Ajose, gave the Warriors the ball back.

“Emmanuel is just a freakish athlete,” said Maine West head coach Jason Kradman.  “Once he figures it all out and puts it all together he’s a scholarship football player.  He’s been a difference maker all year.”

The teams traded possessions with Maine West taking control behind the workhorse effort of RB Jake Bellizzi, but finally broke the game open with 17 seconds left in the first quarter when QB Danny Kentgen connected on a 48 yard slant with Ely Grimmer to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead.

Maine West controlled the time of possession throughout the rest of the half and extended their lead with only 27 seconds remaining in the half courtesy of another Kentgen to Grimmer connection for a 14-0 halftime lead.

After the halftime break  Maine West continued to dominate the action. A swarming defense kept Benet QB Collin Gillespie him in check throughout the evening.

“We didn’t tackle well last week against Deerfield and that was kind of a thorn in our side so we made that a point of emphasis. We kind of banged a little bit this week in practice just to be sure we were good from a tackling standpoint,” Kradman said.  “That’s a credit to our defensive coordinator Steve Piha.”

Maine West added a 34 yard field goal by Krystian Garbicz which extend the lead to 17-0, but the Redwings were far from finished.

On their next possession Benet marched down the field and finally broke their scoring drought with a 22 yard scamper by Gillespie

Gillespie continued to lead the Benet charge when he connected with TE Jacob Snell for a 10 yard touchdown, but once again they were unable to convert after the TD.

With the Redwings threatening, Maine West received an important spark from kick returner David Jackson as he broke loose for a 58 yard return, which was eventually converted into a field goal for an extremely important right point lead.

With three minutes left in the game Benet wasted no time, finding the endzone with 1:29 to spare but failed the two point conversion yet again.

After a failed onside kick attempt, Maine West ran out the clock holding on for the 20-18 win for their first ever state playoff victory, with the momentous occasion being recognized by everyone involved with the program.

“It means the world. The community comes out to supports us every week, no matter if it was our first year here when we were 2-7 or this year when we are 9-1,” said Kradman. “The school has become more and more excited as the years have gone on, and that has helped us produce more players in the program because the more your win, the more kids want to come out and be part of something special.”

Maine West will continue their season next week when they face Willowbrook in the second round of the class 7A playoffs.

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