WHEATON, Ill. -- The Wheaton Warrenville South Tigers took their first step toward defending their Class 7A state championship by holding on to beat Providence 23-16 on Friday. Running back Dan Vitale plowed through the Celtic defense with 35 carries for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the winning effort.
In the first half, the Tigers brought out the ground-and-pound early and often. Vitale surpassed the 100-yard mark by halftime, which included touchdown runs of 7 and 24 yards. Sophomore QB Ryan Graham started for the Tigers but was soon replaced by senior QB Thadeus Armstrong, who is still recovering from an injury.
Senior defensive back Zach Kyllonen provided a huge momentum swing when he intercepted Celtics QB Chris Salazar in Celtic territory shortly after the Tigers fumbled at the goal line. The Tigers were able to capitalize by scoring on the ensuing play to go up 14-3 midway through the second.
The Celtics responded on the next drive as Salazar threw a bullet down the seam to junior wide receiver Chad Weaver for a 34-yard touchdown.
Vitale picked up where he left off in the second half carrying the ball on each play of the first drive, which ended in a tough 3-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers had a difficult time putting away Providence. Two fumbles (one by Vitale and another a miscommunication on a toss play between Armstrong and Vitale) stalled drives for the WWS and gave the Celtics hope.
But Providence had its own turnover issues as Salazar threw another interception, this time to senior linebacker Adam Dansdill.
"I saw the receiver break into a skinny post,” Dansdill said. “Then, I saw the quarterback staring right at him and I shuffled outside then back inside and then he threw it right my way.”
With a 3rd-and-2 coming up late in the fourth, head coach Ron Muhitch called on Vitale to seal the deal and the senior did just that.
Save for a few false start penalties, the Tigers’ young offensive line answered the call against the Celtics defense and was able to open up some holes for Vitale.
“I got to give a lot of credit to my offensive line,” Vitale said. “I wouldn’t have gotten that many carries had our coach not trusted them.”
“Danny’s been getting some holes out there," Muhitch said. “So they must be doing something right.”
Wheaton Warrenville South will have to cut down on the turnovers and learn how to close games if the Tigers plan on having a chance against Lincoln-Way East next week.
Players of the Game: Vitale found holes when they were given and when they weren’t, he made his own. Every yard was earned for this star as he was able to control the pace of the game. For the Celtics, Chad Weaver finished the game leading his team with nine catches for 112 yard and a touchdown.
Stat of the Game: Vitale had 35 carries for 224 yards and three touchdowns, as he was the only offense the Tigers were able to get going. Coach Muhitch will have to put the load on Vitale’s shoulders again next week if they have any shot of winning.
It was over when: Vitale plunged for four yards on a 3rd-and-2 with 1:23 left in the fourth. The Tigers had trouble stringing together a touchdown drive late in the second half that would have put the game away for good.
Quote of the day: “I’ve given him the ball about 30 times the past couple of games. He’s strong, steady and physical, a guy you can count on. He’s everything to this team. He’s the offensive weapon. He had 100 yards by half time and should’ve had 30 points but that’s the name of the game.” – WWS coach Ron Muhitch about Vitale