Trying to grasp a historical day
Updated: November 28, 2011 6:06PM
CHAMPAIGN – For most kids who play high school football in Illinois, it will never get any better than making it to a state title game at Memorial Stadium over Thanksgiving weekend.
But anyone who was lucky enough to catch Saturday’s Class 5A championship saw some players whose best days may still be in the future. Both Montini and Joliet Catholic have some offensive skill players the likes of which have seldom been seen in Illinois prep football lately. Joliet Catholic’s Malin Jones and Montini’s John Rhode, Joe Borsellino, Anthony Taylor and Dimitri Taylor all are very good high school players and would be “the man” at any number of programs.
But two other players stood head and shoulders above the rest and are all-timers: Montini receiver Jordan Westerkamp and Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac.
Both had staggering numbers on Saturday in Montini’s 70-45 win. Westerkamp, battling double and triple teams, somehow got open to catch 11 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns. Isaac did his magic on the ground, running 26 times for 515 yards and six touchdowns.
Isaac also lost two fumbles and threw an interception on an option pass, turnovers that played a role in Montini pulling away for its third straight title-game win and second over the Hilltoppers. But those mistakes did nothing to diminish the respect Montini has for a guy who looks like one of the best backs to come out of Illinois in a long time.
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Isaac has a rare combination of speed and power. He stiff-armed a Montini defender en route to one touchdown Saturday and ran away from the Broncos’ secondary for a few more.
“He’s just an incredible athlete,” said Rhode, who had a monster game of his own with 587 passing yards and seven touchdowns. “You want to get mad at the defense for not being able to stop him. But then you watch him running down the sideline [and think], ‘I couldn’t stop him.’”
Chris Andriano, in his 33rd season as Montini’s coach, had no hesitation answering where Isaac ranks among the backs the Broncos have played over the years: “The best. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Until Saturday, Andriano said, the best was former Wilmington and Northwestern star Damien Anderson, who went on to play four seasons in the NFL for Arizona. “This kid is better,” Andriano said. “He’s just so smooth.”
Westerkamp, meanwhile, had friend and foe alike reaching for similar superlatives.
“When I make a bad throw, he comes down with it one-handed, already running,” said Rhode, who threw for 42 touchdowns despite missing the first five games with a thumb injury in the preseason.
“He’s a great player,” Isaac said. “They’re classy guys, not a lot of talking. It was two really good teams with a lot of respect for each other.”
Jordan isn’t the only Westerkamp who has been a headache for the Hilltoppers here. His older brother Christian caught the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute when the Broncos beat Joliet Catholic 29-28 in the 5A final two years ago.
“I’m sure JCA’s pretty sick of Westerkamps by now,” Westerkamp said with a grin.
After his prep swan song on Saturday, Westerkamp – the state’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns – won’t be causing any more problems for opposing defenses. But Isaac will be back, with an even greater sense of purpose.
“They beat us, we can’t make excuses at this point,” he said. “We just try to come back next year. work a lot harder and do what we have to do to get better.”
A better Ty Isaac is hard to imagine. But it’ll be fun to watch.