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Wilmington rolls over Chicago Christian to begin title defense

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By Tim Cronin
Correspondent

WILMINGTON – Extravagant as the pregame ceremony introducing the Wilmington Wildcats to their loyal fans is — complete with fireworks, a motorcycle escort, running through the grove of trees beyond the south end zone and thence to a fan corridor on the Becker Field grass — it has nothing on the Wildcats’ offense.

That is a sight to behold — or fear. Chicago Christian saw it too often the night of Oct. 29, victims of a 41-7 beating by the defending Class 2A champions in the first round of the  2022 IHSA playoffs.

For the Knights, a very young team, the trip to this corner of small-town America was a lesson learned. As much improvement as Tom O’Connor’s squad made from last season to this — more than the 5-5 record compared to 2021’s 4-5 mark might portend — that much more improvement is needed to compete with the best in their class.

“The program kind of got turned around under the previous head coach (Nick Cook),” O’Connor said. “This group of sophomores, they’re good athletes. They’ve got a lot of talent and they work hard.”

There were 17 sophomores and six freshmen on the Knights’ 41-man roster. With guys like linebacker Brock Sperling, who works weight training and O’Connor’s “speed school” around basketball in the winter, the trend is up.

Quarterback Christian Flutman — “Flutie” to his mates — is also a sophomore, but as the starter since the third week of the season, he now has the experience of a junior.

“It took a bit to get into the groove, but we went on a winning streak which sent us to the playoffs, and that felt good,” Flutman said.

He’s grown into the role, and now, given he’s 5-foot-9, 135 pounds, wants to grow.

“That and work on throwing,” Flutman said, who fancies a summer of football passing camps.

Wilmington’s defense was the equal of its offense, holding the Knights to 25 first-half yards, including minus-10 on the ground, before the running clock ruled. They forced four turnovers — a trio of fumbles and an interception — along the way. Wilmington converted each into a touchdown. Two of the turnovers came in the game’s first three minutes.

“I thought we had a good game plan, and that went right out the door,” O’Connor said.

Flutman collaborated with Adam Stuursma, one of the few seniors who played a skill positions, for the Knights’ only touchdown, a 3-yard pass on fourth-and-goal with 1:48 left in the third quarter. It was a reward for persevering, at the least, and prevented Wilmington from a second straight shutout and third this season.

Wilmington’s Colin James, whose eight carries for 131 yards paced the Wildcats, ran for four touchdowns, scoring from 25, 12, 35 and 3 yards. He beat a pair of Knights in the open field en route to his 35-yard score, which made it 20-0 after only 8:08 had elapsed. Brendan Moran and Hunter Hayes added first-half rushing touchdowns.

The Wildcats host Tri-Valley Downs in the second round.

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