There is a lot of recent history when you talk about the Forreston Cardinals and Le-Win Panthers. Over the past 8 seasons alone, these two teams have claimed 5 state titles. Le-Win has had to go through Forreston in all 3 of its title runs, whereas Forreston had to go through Le-Win on their last. The old cliche is that it is hard to beat a team twice, however every time these two have faced off in the playoffs, the winner in the regular season was also the winner in the postseason. This time however, history would not repeat itself.
Lena-Winslow came off a big blowout win over Aurora Christian the week before, while Forreston had to gut out back to back nail biter wins. With snow on the ground, and a crisp feel in the air, it gave you a different feeling about this game then the 36-16 week 2 win for Le-Win.
The Cardinals were out to prove their place right from the opening kickoff, as it only took them 1:09 to march 73 yards, behind a big run by Evan Kelsey, another big pass by Bailey Cullor to Dom Christensen, and then Garett Badertscher up the gut from 8 yards out. The 2 point conversion was good, and Forreston was up 8-0 with 10:46 left in the 1st.
Le-Win would get good field position on the kickoff return, and were quickly in Forreston territory. Facing a 4th and short, the Cardinal defense stiffened as they turned the Panthers away at the Forreston 25 yard line.
At that time, Forreston had the momentum, but that would quickly swing as a minute and a half later, Le-Win would force a fumble on Christensen, and Ronny Valentine was there to fall on it and give the Panthers light. This time the Panthers would respond.
Starting from their own 44 yard line, Le-Win would methodically chew up clock and drive the ball down the field, set up by a big run from Keegan Gyland. A few plays later and it was Sean Ormiston punching it in from the 1. The 2 point try failed as Forreston held onto an 8-6 lead after the 1st quarter.
Forreston would come right back, once again Cullor hitting a big pass, this time to Hunter Rogers for 52 yards, then Badertscher would get some yards on runs up the middle, and it was Cullor who would dive in from the 1 to extend the Cardinal lead. The 2 point try was stopped, but the Cards had a 14-6 lead with 8:01 to go in the half.
At that moment, all the momentum would shift in Forreston's favor, as a fumbled snap was recovered by Sawyer Wild at the Le-Win 31 yard line. That would quickly lead to a punt however, but Cullor's punt was downed at the Le-Win 2 yard line. On the ensuing play, Le-Win fumbled the snap again, this time recovered by Cailean Davids at the Le-Win 1 yard line. A Badertscher dive up the middle on the next play would give Forreston a commanding 20-6 lead with 6:29 left in the half.
Le-Win wouldn't let that sit for long, as on the next drive, they kept getting big runs by Ormiston and Gyland. A big first down run by Isaiah Bruce would help keep the ball rolling for the Panthers. Deep in Cardinal territory, the Panthers went to their horse, Ormiston, as he powered through for a 9 yard TD run. The 2 point try was intercepted, but the Panthers closed the gap with 3:50 left in the half, down 20-12.
They quickly forced Forreston to go 3 and out, and punt. That punt would get blocked and roll out of bounds at the Forreston 1 yard line. This time Ormiston punched it in from 1 yard out, and the 2 point run by Ormiston was good, and the game was tied at 20 with 2:54 left in the half.
Le-Win would get one more shot, as once again they forced a quick punt situation for Forreston, in the process using their last timeouts. Starting the drive from the Forreston 43 yard line, the Panthers would drive down to the Forreston 3 yard line with 5 seconds left on the clock. With no timeouts, they went to the air, but Dom Christensen came up with a big interception at the 3 yard line to turn the Panthers away to end the half tied at 20.
The score would remain the same through 3 quarters, but Forreston was on the drive, set up by another big play from Christensen, as he came down with what could be one of three plays of the game, all by him. A pass play saw Cullor find Christensen deep down the seam, but Le-Win coverage was there. Christensen jumped to catch the ball for a 28 yard gain, and as soon as he did he was hit, but hung onto the ball and raised it to the crowd to show he had it. As the game entered the 4th quarter, the Cards were at the Le-Win 5 yard line. Just 3 plays later, and Badertscher was going into the endzone with a 1 yard TD run. The 2 point try was good, as Badertscher would run it in again, and with 11:32 to play the Cards were in the lead 28-20.
After both teams would exchange punts, of which the Panthers punt pinned the Cardinals on their own 1 yard line, the ensuing Cardinals punt put the Panthers at the Forreston 27 yard line to start their drive. On the ground again, the Panthers marched their way down the field to have it capped off with Ormiston's 4th touchdown of the game. The 2 point run by Ormiston was good, and the game was tied at 28 with 4:26 to go in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Christensen would make his last of his 3 big plays in the game. The kickoff by Le-Win went deep on a squib, but found Christensen's hands. He immediately charged up the middle, found a hole on the left, did a stutter step juke to his left on the last would be tackler, and found the endzone 75 yards later. Le-Win would stop the 2 point try, but the damage was done as Forreston held a 34-28 lead with 4:14 left in the game.
Le-Win would put together one more drive, but 2 minutes later it came to an end on a 4th and 2 call that came up a yard short, leaving Forreston to take a couple plays to get another first down, and with a 1:16 to go it was all kneel downs after that to run out the clock.
On the day, Le-Win out gained Forreston 281 yards to 252 yards. Leading the way for Le-Win was Sean Ormiston with 161 yards on 37 carries and 4 TD. Gyland added 80 yards on 12 carries, and Bruce finished with 23 yards on 11 carries.
For the Cards, Bailey Cullor was 4-8 passing for 89 yards with 1 rushing TD. Garett Badertscher was the workhorse for the Cards, as he had 73 yards rushing on 22 carries with 3 TD. Evan Kelsey pitched in 57 yards on 10 carries.
With the win, Forreston heads to Champaign for the 3rd time in 5 seasons. They will face the Camp Point Central Panthers who came away with a 35-22 win over Argenta-Oreana to earn their 1st ever trip to the state title game. Kickoff will be set for 10 am on Friday at Memorial Stadium.