Class 2A: Effort not a problem in defeat
CHAMPAIGN – It happened once more.
Westville's second chance for a football state championship resulted in the team finishing second-best.
For the second consecutive year, the Tigers were overpowered by another unbeaten opponent in the Class 2A state title game. Dakota scored touchdowns on six of its final seven full possessions (another was stopped after 27 seconds by halftime) and blitzed the Tigers 50-12 at Memorial Stadium.
Dakota's point total set a record for the 34 years of championship games in 2A. Its winning margin matched the all-time 2A mark set by Bloomington Central Catholic's 1982 champs.
"I don't know what area they're not good in," Westville coach Guy Goodlove said. "We tried, and we gave a great effort, but we couldn't stop them. They were stronger than we were and quicker than we thought."
Senior Caleb Pratt, who scored both of Westville's touchdowns – each on long plays after the Indians had opened up a 28-0 lead – said, "They were the better team. We've never been dominated like that."
Teammate Aaron Johnson said Dakota was successful because of its execution, not because it surprised the Tigers.
"We studied and studied and knew everything they were doing," the cornerback said, "but we couldn't get it stopped."
Westville looked like the team ready to take control from the outset. Derek Elliott returned the opening kickoff 13 yards and the Tigers then marched from their own 28 to a first-and-goal from the Dakota 6 in six plays.
Pratt got the call on the first three running plays and then quarterback Dustin Billings hooked up with fullback Jordan Barney on three straight pass plays, the latter covering 43 yards and moving Westville deep into the red zone after 3 1/2 minutes.
Billings went to the air again and was intercepted at the goal line by Alex Turman, whose 3-yard return set up a 97-yard, eight play scoring drive by the Indians, who never trailed.
Dakota coach Jerry Lano, who earned his second state championship with an unbeaten team in three years, said Turman's pick set the tone for what would follow.
"That might have been the difference in the game," Lano said. "In big games, penalties and turnovers hurt you. We're not that much better than them, but when momentum gets going, it's tough to stop."
Goodlove wasn't convinced the interception – the first of three thrown by the Tigers – was the backbreaker.
"I don't know if it made that big of a difference," he said. "How many possessions did they score on? We still had to figure out a way to stop them."
Westville, which finished 13-1 for the second consecutive season, had defensive lapses which Goodlove found uncharacteristic.
"We didn't do a real good job tackling and that was surprising to us," he said. "They were very aggressive, very determined and they punched us."
Before Pratt turned a screen pass from Billings into a 65-yard TD reception with 5:48 left in the third quarter, Westville advanced inside the Dakota 20 on two other possessions without scoring.
One ended with three successive incompletions and the other with an interception at the Dakota 10.
"It hurts when you're so close and get nothing," Pratt said. "That's something we're not used to."
Facing a 21-0 deficit at halftime was a challenge, but Barney said he and his teammates still felt they could rally.
"A few years ago, we were down 21-0 to Iroquois West and won," Barney said. "Most of the team felt we could come back."
Dakota effectively contained Pratt the majority of the game. He was limited to 70 yards on the ground until his next-to-last carry, when he erupted for a 2A title game record 82-yard scoring run with 3:39 remaining.
"He's an elusive back and I don't feel like we stopped him," Lano said. "We were happy when we got them to third-and-long because we thought we could blitz and put pressure on the quarterback."
Billings completed 8 of 17 passes for a career-high 169 yards. Barney hauled in a season-high five receptions for 85 yards. Pratt finished with 158 yards rushing, which raised his state record for 100-yard rushing games to 41.
Defensively, Dusty Zaayer registered a game-high 16 tackles and Barney was in on 10 stops, including three tackles for loss. Pratt was next with six tackles.