Dedication key to Saints’ storybook season

Photo Caption: The Saints “march in” to Memorial Stadium in Champaign, led by Sean Stokes (4), Joe Ring (70), Jack Wombacher (68), Dan Curran (8), and Connor Kirkwood (64).

By: By Tom Dermody

BLOOMINGTON — Which of the following made the state Class 4A championship earned last Friday by Central Catholic High School the perfect ending to a truly storybook football season?

a) The fact that the Saints came back from a disappointing loss in the 2007 state finals to post an undefeated record of 14-0 in a season filled with memorable games and capped by a 37-28 title contest win over Aurora Christian at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, or

b) That Central Catholic made history by becoming the first Illinois school to win football championships in four different classes, with the 2008 team joining Saints state title teams from 1982 (Class 1A), 1987 (Class 2A) and 1994 (Class 3A), or

c) That these football Saints lifted the spirits of a school community mourning the sudden deaths this year of two beloved boosters, Dr. Gary Johnson — father of team captain Dylan Johnson — who died in June, and Chuck Schanaberger, longtime development director known as “Mr. CCHS,” who passed away in November.

The correct answer is “d,” all of the above.

“We’re all thankful,” said Bobby Moews, head coach, expressing sentiments shared by all Central Catholic fans including more than 2,000 who traveled to the University of Illinois on the day after Thanksgiving to watch the title game.

“We enjoyed the ride,” added Moews. “They were a joy to coach. You don’t know when a team like this is going to come again.”

“It was so exciting,” added Joy Allen, principal, who was one of several speakers at a celebration rally that drew 500 people to the school gym on Saturday.

“I got a little teary-eyed,” Allen admitted as she thanked the team for winning “for those we’ve left behind,” including Dr. Johnson and Schanaberger.

“They were playing believing both men are in heaven rooting for them,” Allen told The Catholic Post. “That was their focus. They did it for them.”

“We understood what we had to do for CCHS,” said quarterback Adam Rebholz, who ran for two touchdowns and passed for 319 yards including two scores against Aurora Christian.

“We let the community hop on our backs,” added lineman Joe Ring. “We knew we could bring that much more joy to our school if we kept winning.”

The joy and satisfaction of the championship were perhaps felt most personally by Dylan Johnson, who said he thought of his late father “during every game” because “football was such a big part of what he and I shared.”

“I knew he’d be proud either way, but (winning) was pretty special,” said Dylan, a tight end who contributed to Friday’s win in a big way by catching a 69-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring. In the Saints’ final drive as the clock wound down, he raced to snare a critical 38-yard pass from Rebholz that led to the clinching touchdown.

“Initially I didn’t think I would catch up to it,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that was my dad catching that one for me,” he later told a reporter.

Dr. Johnson’s initials were painted on Bill Hundmann Memorial Field and worn on the Saints’ helmets.

How the Saints won each of their 14 games — including a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Quincy Notre Dame in the quarterfinals — reflected the character of this championship team, said Moews and Allen.

“They stayed focused for 14 straight games,” said Allen, who expressed pride not only in the team fulfilling its mission but “their attitude throughout.”

“They’re a motivated group of seniors and good role models,” she added.

“This couldn’t have happened to a better group of kids,” said Father Patrick Henehan, chaplain at Central Catholic. He called the senior class — both team members and seniors as a group — “stellar” not only physically but intellectually and spiritually.

“Many are really into their faith,” said Father Henehan, who said a Mass was celebrated every game day. The team also regularly paused for a “Hail Mary” at the school’s grotto to “Our Lady of Victory” near the football field.

“Our mascot is perfect,” said Father Henehan. “We’re the Saints, and they don’t just win a championship here but share in the eternal kingdom.” Some Saints fans brought a papal flag to wave at Memorial Stadium.

Moews, in his 17th year as coach of the Saints — he also guided the 1994 team to the state championship — also used words like “focused” and “determined” to characterize the team. It’s an unselfish, intelligent group, said Moews, with six senior leaders scoring 30 or higher on their ACT tests and/or earning academic all-state honors.

“They’re going to be a success at whatever they do,” said Moews.

“I can’t describe it,” said Dylan Johnson of the feeling when he knew the title was Central Catholic’s. “It’s something you have to experience. All that hard work paid off.” And then the celebration began. There were 30 family members and friends waiting for Dylan when he got home, with the anthem “We Are The Champions” blaring on the stereo.

At Saturday’s rally at the school, speakers included state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, and state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. Players, cheerleaders, and staff were introduced, and championship medals were distributed.

Joe Ring doesn’t want to take his medal off.

“I take it off to shower, but that’s about it,” he said. “It might get old sometime. But not yet.”

“We went undefeated,” said Rebholz. “That’s a record that can’t be broken. We left a mark on CCHS.”

In addition to Rebholz, Johnson, and Ring, Saints’ seniors also included Kendall Cox, Brendan McCracken, Sean Stokes, Dan Curran, Blake Rave, Ben Heaton, David Murray, Alex Ludwig, Connor Kirkwood, Jack Wombacher, and Jay Dachauer.

Other varsity team members are James Hinderks, Jared Kelch, Domonique Hilt, Taylor Jewett, Chris Stolfa, Kevin Rollins, Dominic Henson, Duncan Brady, Robby Seidl, Joe Wemlinger, Jesse Heaton, Baine Rave, Josiah Zehr, Andrew Holt, Robbie McNeil, Nick Jordan, Brad Connor, Will Waldron, Michael Bleichner, Brendan Quinn, Nathan Yelton, Drake Griffin, Gus Hozie, Sam Eledge, Austin Sherwood, Alex Miller, Mike Kistner, Sean Gibbens, Matt Klepec, Chris Eakle, Connor Highland, Casey Chandler, Chris Highland, Dan Lancaster, Ben McAllister, Drew Talkington, Adam McIntosh, and Kevin Kniery.

Assistant coaches included Bob Crawford, Bud Concklin, Isy Hoomanawanui, Jim Malinowski, Mike Moews, and Mark Parker.

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