Wheaton North’s first trip to the state semifinals in 20 years didn’t come on the back of a flashy, standout win. The Falcons gritted out a tough road win on a cold and wet November night, beating Willowbrook 10-3 in Villa Park to advance to the Class 7A state semifinals.
Luke Beedle’s two-yard run in the final minute gave Wheaton North the crucial first down that sealed the win.
“It was the biggest play of my life—two yards,” Beedle said. “It’s the best feeling ever. We’ve been saying it all year but doing it is what counts.”
Beedle, a junior, had 12 carries for 42 yards. Sophomore Walker Owens added 10 carries for 52 yards for the Falcons (11-1).
“It was tough out there,” Owens said. “But it felt good at the end. We were grinding out first downs and running out the clock. That’s all we really needed to do.
Neither team scored in the second half. Both teams kicked field goals in the first half and Wheaton North quarterback Mark Forcucci scored the game’s only touchdown on a one-yard run with 3:41 left in the second quarter.
“[Willowbrook] is used to playing in these big games,” Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. “I heard they had been in at least the quarterfinals five years in a row. So we knew those kids weren’t going to back down. They battled until the end. But so did our kids.”
Forcucci, a Holy Cross recruit, was 6-for-12 passing for 44 yards. The Falcons’ longest play in the game was a 14-yard pass from Forcucci to junior Ross Dansdill.
The Falcons made up for that defensively. They kept Willowbrook (8-4) out of the red zone for nearly the entire game. The one time the Warriors threatened, defensive back Tyler O’Connor stepped up. The junior made the biggest play of the game, grabbing an interception in the end zone in the third quarter. He also kicked the 26-yard field goal in the first quarter.
“I just knew I had to get an interception,” O’Connor said. “I was just sitting there waiting in the end zone for the ball to slip out of someone’s hands. It was wet out there.”
Willowbrook quarterback AJ Palicki, a 6-3 sophomore, showed poise and talent throughout the game. He finished 10-for-22 passing for 115 yards with the one interception.
Junior Joe Tumilty had eight receptions for 88 yards for the Warriors.
“[Tumilty] is a great football player,” Wardynski said. “Even though we were keying on him he still made plays. We didn’t give up anything over the top which kept three points on the board.”
Wheaton North will face the winner of Mount Carmel vs. Brother Rice in the semifinals next weekend.
“We struggled a little bit getting the ball down the field,” Wardynski said. “We’ve done that pretty well throughout the year. But tonight we were a little deficient in the passing game. We have to get that going again if we’re gonna have a chance next week.”