IHSA football: What to know about Joliet Catholic vs. Sacred Heart-Griffin title game

Bill Welt
State Journal-Register
Sacred Heart-Griffin head football coach Ken Leonard celebrates with his team after the Cyclones defeated Rochester in the IHSA Class 4A semifinals at Rocket Booster Stadium in Rochester, Ill., Friday, November 19, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Another state championship appearance buttressed by a prolific run-heavy offense: Some things — such as the Joliet Catholic football program — just don’t change. 

Sacred Heart-Griffin football coach Ken Leonard certainly knows what to expect from these Hilltoppers (13-0) when they meet the Cyclones (12-1) at 7 p.m. Friday for the Class 4A championship at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

Meet the Joliet Catholic Hilltoppers 

JCA has won each of the previous three playoff meetings against Leonard’s Cyclones: 2000, 2003 and 2011.  

Leonard said he tries to forget that last bout. JCA dispatched SHG 49-7 in a Class 5A semifinal with a pair of formidable rushers in Malin Jones and Ty Isaac. 

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The top-seeded Hilltoppers will once again present another talented rushing duo. This time, they include 1,000-yard senior rushers Jordan Anderson and Vinny Iannantone.  

Anderson, who is committed to Illinois, and Iannantone most recently combined for 242 rushing yards in a 35-18 semifinal win over Richmond Burton on Saturday. 

“What they want to do is beat you upfront and if they can control the ball, they’re going to control the ball and then throw the ball,” said Leonard, who earlier reached 400 wins in 42 seasons coaching. “They’re very capable of throwing the ball off of that. It’s very dangerous because you’re going to pack the box and now there’s space to throw.  

“It’s the same Joliet Catholic. They have a great tradition. I have the upmost respect for those guys and I’ve known those guys for a long time.” 

Sacred Heart-Griffin quarterback Ty Lott (16) celebrates his touchdown with Sacred Heart-Griffin's Kyle Long (19) against Glenwood in the first half at Glenwood High School in Chatham, Ill., Friday, October 22, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Anderson has missed time this season due to injury but Iannantone has more than thrived in that span. He was named to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 4A All-State team. 

“You obviously don’t see too many running backs at 6-3, 230 (pounds), but what separates him is his work ethic,” JCA coach Jake Jaworski said of Anderson. “We’ve had some pretty darn good running backs that have gone through here and I would put him right at the top of the list as far as work ethic. That’s in the weight room, speed and agility training. But that’s just every day in practice.  

“He’s a guy who was banged up throughout the year a little bit and he comes back in practice and we’re trying to keep it light … he wants reps and he’s diving for footballs. He’s a competitor, he works hard, he leads by example, I think that’s what kind of separates him a little bit is just his work ethic.” 

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JCA quarterback Aidan Voss only completed 2 of 4 passing attempts for 61 yards but also ran for 40 yards on Saturday. He additionally threw two TDs and ran for another score in the 42-7 quarterfinal win over Genoa-Kingston. He also earned all-state honors.

JCA’s defense additionally includes Illini commit Malachi Hood. He has 67 tackles while senior linebacker Michael Rouse leads the team with 98.

“I’ve had a number of coaches up there tell me, ‘Hey, he’s the best Joliet Catholic quarterback in a long time,’ ” Leonard said of Voss. “He’s just a competitor as you can tell and he can run the ball, too. What can you say? They’re really special on offense and they’re really special on defense.” 

That passing threat may be a new feature in this edition, but so is Jaworski. Jaworski, leading the Hilltoppers for a fifth season, actually played against Leonard in the 2000 Class 4A quarterfinals then was an assistant in 2011. 

“He's had such an awesome career,” Jaworski said of Leonard. “I just have tons of respect for what he’s done down there.” 

Meet the Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones

Sacred Heart-Griffin's Madixx Morris (6) makes a fingertip catch against Rochester's Ryan Robinson (3) in the second half during the IHSA Class 4A semifinals at Rocket Booster Stadium in Rochester, Ill., Friday, November 19, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

SHG prefers to spread the field offensively.  

Junior quarterback Ty Lott went 22-for-32 for 422 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a thrilling 49-42 win over Rochester in the semifinals on Friday. 

He has completed 176 of 234 passing attempts for 2,902 yards and 42 TDs with just two INTs this season. 

Junior Madixx Morris had the biggest night among the receivers with seven receptions for 179 yards and two TDs. Juniors KeShon Singleton (47 catches for 618 yards and 12 TDs) and Jake Hamilton (46 receptions for 809 yards and nine TDs) still lead the group. 

Leonard said Lott has been a special quarterback with a big arm. 

Special:Why SHG quarterback Ty Lott is Springfield's top breakout player so far

“He’s had a magical year,” Leonard said. “He’s just made great decisions. Ty Lott is part of that spread where you got to make those decisions. Every play you got two or three options after the snap of the ball and if you got to a guy who can pull the trigger, he does it. He’s just real, cool kid and never gets shook and smart.” 

Leonard said SHG’s outside linebackers, junior Cory West and senior Salomon Dessalines, make up a key part of the 3-4 defense. West leads the team 121 tackles and Dessalines has 104. Inside linebackers Hudson McMann and Richard Jackson also total 106 and 100 tackles, respectively. 

Both Lott and West gained all-state laurels, as well.

Leonard said his message to the team after Friday’s win was enjoy the moment. 

“I told our kids and said, ‘It goes by so quick. Just enjoy this," Lenoard said. "You have no idea how fortunate you are. It’s not easy to do what you guys have done and get to this point. Just enjoy it, absorb the whole week. This is going to be gone and these will be memories you will have for the rest of your life.”  

Contact Bill Welt: bill.welt@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/BillWelt