CHAMPAIGN — Camp Point Central had to beat some good football teams to advance to its first state title game.
But none of them were quite like Forreston.
“I don’t think we had seen that physical of a team all year until today,” CPC coach Brad Dixon said.
The Cardinals (12-2) imposed their will on the Panthers (12-2) on Friday, dominating from the start in a 44-6 blowout victory that earned them their third Class 1A state championship trophy in five years at Memorial Stadium.
“This group of seniors have been more than what we could’ve ever asked for,” Forreston coach Kyle Zick said. “They’ve stuck together and really embodied everything that is a team and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I’m very proud to be able to bring this home to Forreston.”
The Cardinals’ win continues a trend of state dominance by teams from their conference. It’s the seventh time in nine years the 1A champ has come out of the NUIC. Lena-Winslow and Forreston have combined for six of those, and it was the Cardinals’ upset of defending state champion Le-Win in last week’s semifinals that had them well prepared to take on any kind of challenge CPC might present.
But it became clearly early that these Panthers weren’t going to be much of a challenge.
“We wanted to make sure we made a statement early that we were the more physical team,” Forreston senior lineman Mitchell Heinz said.
The Cardinals made that statement with their opening possesion, marching 73 yards in a four-minute, nine-second drive that ended with Evan Kelsey’s 23-yard touchdown run. Kelsey played a big part in helping Forreston build a 30-0 halftime lead. He broke off multiple big gains, accounted for the first two scores of the game and 118 of the Cardinals’ 241 first-half rushing yards.
“I would definitely attribute it to the offensive line,” Kelsey said. “It’s a heck of a lot easier for me to run through huge holes.”
The game was won up front with Forreston controlling the line of scrimmage with its offensive and defensive lines. The Cardinals held the Panthers to 68 yards on 20 carries in the first half, and they also picked off two Eric Jones passes, one of which Hunter Rogers returned 26 yards to the end zone.
Forreston finished off CPC by scoring on its first two drives of the second half. Touchdown runs by Ethan Mulder -- his second of the game -- and Garett Badertsher started a running clock early in the fourth quarter.
“They deserved every bit of that win,” CPC senior Noah Strohkirch said. “When push came to shove, they won the battles one on one. We had some good plays here and there but overall the physicality was on their side the whole game.”
Adam Kradle: 815-987-1388; firstname.lastname@example.org; @AdamJKradle