St. Laurence assistant coach Frank Lenti, a longtime fixture on the sidelines in state championship games when he was at Mount Carmel, fires up running back Aaron Ball before the Vikings take on Rochester for the Class 4A title on Nov. 24. Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence assistant coach Frank Lenti, a longtime fixture on the sidelines in state championship games when he was at Mount Carmel, fires up running back Aaron Ball before the Vikings take on Rochester for the Class 4A title on Nov. 24. Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence falls to Rochester, takes second in Class 4A

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By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

As a four-year varsity player at St. Laurence, Corey Taubr experienced three losing seasons before the Vikings made a stunning postseason run this year.

They made it to the IHSA Class 4A final, where they lost 59-38 to Rochester on Nov. 24 at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal. It was the highest-scoring game in 4A title-game history

“Right now, it stings, because it’s the last football game I’ll ever play with these guys,” Taubr said minutes after the game. “We made some lifelong memories. It’s been a tremendous four years.”

The Vikings can take some joy in the fact that it was only the third football team in school history to make it to the state title game, and the first since 1979. St. Laurence won a state title in 1976.

Aaron Ball, a senior running back who is headed to Illinois as a preferred walk-on, ran for 160 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Evan Les threw for 138 yards and a touchdown and also ran for two scores.

To get to the finals, the underdog Vikings played in a pair of see-saw nailbiters in the quarterfinals and semifinals, with Ball scoring late in a 24-20 win over IC Catholic and Cesar Chavez blocking an extra point attempt in the second overtime in a 31-30 win over Wheaton Academy.

“It’s good for us but pretty bad on my blood pressure,” Vikings coach Adam Nissen said of the close games. “There have been some crazy games. They were really good high school football games, and it started in Round 2 with Dixon.”

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St. Laurance players lift the Class 4A runner-up trophy on Nov. 24. The Vikings played in their first state title game since 1979. Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Vikings beat the Dukes by 10 points in that game, but the outcome was closer than the score indicates, Nissen said.

“Every game after Dixon there have been some very crucial high-level situations and some very high-pressure moments that our kids stepped up and made plays,” he continued. “It’s 100% them and its absolutely one of the most resilient groups I’ve ever coached. They never flinched, regardless of the situation.”

The Vikings (10-4) experienced an odd start to the season when they blew out Von Steuben, 77-0, then sat home the second week with a forfeit win over Chicago Noble Academy. They were blown out by Wheaton St. Francis, 42-28, in Week 3

They piled up four straight wins before a 20-9 loss to St. Rita and a season-ending 24-17 setback to Montini.

“Those were two good teams,” Nissen said of St. Rita and Montini. “Those weren’t two teams that were average teams. It was tough, but it also kind of brought us down to earth and humbled us a little bit and got us ready to go for our playoff run.”

The coach said he saw big things coming this year, despite the a combined 11-17 record over the previous three seasons.

“We knew we had a special group,” he said. “The seniors were eighth-graders when I got the job, so they have been with me since Day 1 here. They are just a very tight-knit group.

“I know that’s cliché to say that, but I’ve had teams in the past who have not been as tight-knit. But these guys have been very close, even outside of football. They collectively figure out how to get the job done.”

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Bundled St. Laurence fans go crazy after a big play for the Vikings in a 59-38 loss to Rochester. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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