HOFFMAN ESTATES – Joe Perhats blitzed.
The Prairie Ridge senior linebacker bounced off Hoffman Estates’ right tackle and found himself in between the quarterback and his intended target.
“I saw the running back release, and I saw the ball coming,” Perhats said. “I just tried to get my hands on it.”
Perhats corralled the interception, ending Hoffman Estates’ opening drive of the second half. At the time, Prairie Ridge held a one-possession lead. The Wolves’ offense drove down field and extended the lead with a touchdown.
“Joe making a big play, that really gave our defense a lot of confidence,” Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said.
Prairie Ridge (13-0) finished off a 42-21 win over Hoffman Estates and will head to its second consecutive Class 6A state championship game, where it will face Nazareth (12-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in DeKalb.
Perhats’ interception sparked the defense, especially after giving up some big plays in the first half.
Hoffman Estates scored on passes of 64 and 43 yards. The Hawks, who had never played in a state semifinal, trailed, 20-14, at halftime.
“The first half wasn’t our best football,” Perhats said. “But I think we responded in the second half, and it showed.”
The Wolves defense did have one turnover in the first half, an interception from senior Drew Norton. It was a special moment for Norton.
A year ago, he watched from the stands as the Wolves won the state title at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Norton, who had played football since he was 7, quit the team prior to his junior season in 2016.
“I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time in the summer,” Norton said. “I quit and saw they beat Cary-Grove in Week 1, and I knew it was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
He participated in the Wolves’ offseason programs and earned a starting spot toward the end of the summer.
“I was more than willing to do whatever it took,” Norton said.
He earned back the trust of his teammates and coaches, and this time around, Norton will be playing in the state title game, not watching it.
Norton’s interception came on a fourth-down play for Hoffman Estates, deep into Prairie Ridge territory.
The Hawks came into the game averaging 30.9 points a game, with a quarterback who had thrown for more than 2,500 yards.
“We knew they had a ton of athletes,” defensive back Justin Mikolajczewski said. “They showcased that.”
Mikolajczewski, another senior on the defense, said Hoffman Estates’ attack reminded him a lot of the Wolves’ previous state semifinal opponents – Montini in 2015 and DeKalb in 2016.
Schremp noted that defensive coordinator Andy Peterson and his staff did a nice job of giving Hoffman Estates different looks.
“They’ve just got phenomenal athletes,” Schremp said of the Hawks. “Our secondary can’t match up with their receivers one-on-one. [The defensive staff] did a nice job mixing things up and coming out with a couple adjustments at halftime.”
After the Hawks amassed 195 passing yards in the first half, the Wolves’ defense held them to 70 in the second. That effort will give Prairie Ridge a chance to cap off back-to-back undefeated seasons with another state championship.
“I’m speechless,” Perhats said. “We’ve been there before. We’ve got the experience, but it’s not going to be worth much unless we can go back and do it again. It’s exhilarating.”