Urbana playoff victory worth the wait
URBANA — Pick a subject.
It doesn’t just exist at Urbana in the classrooms of the science department. It’s a prominent part of the Urbana football team, where many of the seniors have been teammates and friends for eight years.
The numbers are all good within the Tigers’ football program. There’s the nine straight wins, a first at the school in 48 years, and Saturday’s 36-22 chilling triumph against East Peoria in a Class 5A first-round playoff game at McKinley Field.
Yes, especially history. In 39 years of the IHSA state tournament series, Urbana had never once won a postseason game until its 10th appearance on a weekend night that capped a second successive unbeaten month for head coach Nathan Watson’s charges. This is an area where the team’s collective grade is an “A.”
Words are all that are available to describe the event, but few seem fitting. Stunning would not be an overstatement on a night the Tigers fell behind 7-0 and 14-7 and endured a 25-minute fourth-quarter delay when a power outage darkened the field.
The culmination of a massive four-year building project was unveiled against a determined East Peoria team. The chief architect on the field — as usual — was senior quarterback Cameron Mammen, who efficiently and calmly directed an offensive unit that accounted for three second-half touchdowns as the team pulled away from a halftime deadlock.
He passed for 139 yards, rushed for 78 yards and handed off to other backs who gained 158 yards.
The state’s 11th-ranked 5A team will play an 11th game in a season for the first time in a program that traces its beginnings back more than 100 years. Next Saturday’s game will be at Morris.
“This is the highlight of my coaching career,” Watson said. “This is the best feeling.”
Urbana broke a 14-14 halftime tie when Mammen hooked up with Devon Williams on a 48-yard scoring strike with 3:09 left in the third quarter. Williams wasn’t the intended receiver, but East Peoria had all the other Tigers blanketed.
“That was our scramble play,” Watson said. “Everyone just tries to find Cam. We’ve run reps with that since summer.”
Williams said the Tigers didn’t get discouraged when East Peoria needed less than three minutes at the outset to take the lead with the visitors’ first two plays each gaining 18 yards.
“We know the work we’ve put in,” Williams said. “We had confidence in ourselves. We just had to keep believing.”
Mammen engineered a 96-yard scoring march, covering 16 plays. The capper was Kenny Patton’s 4-yard run, followed by a conversion run to lift Urbana into an 8-7 lead.
“A fun, wild high school game,” Watson said. “This was a team win, the line, everyone was outstanding.”
Urbana gave itself breathing room in the third period after catching a major break. Dustin Lard fumbled an East Peoria punt, but Williams pounced on it at his own 36-yard line.
On the next play, Mammen split out as a receiver. James Cobbs took the center snap and took off. He outraced the Raiders to the end zone on a 64-yard scoring jaunt, accounting for the majority of his team-high 105 yards rushing.
“That was definitely a new wrinkle,” Watson said. “That was Coach (Chris) Bazzell and Coach (Sergio) Medina. I have the best assistants in the state.”
When Patton ran in the conversion, Urbana held a 30-14 lead.
“Our (fast) tempo wears big guys out,” Watson said. “I know (Normal) Community beat us, but that was the toughest team we’ve played.”
East Peoria nearly broke the tie first in the third period. Michael Thompson (game-high 179 rushing yards) raced 87 yards to the end zone on the Raiders’ first play of the half, but a holding penalty brought the ball back to the East Peoria 11-yard line, and five plays later the team punted.