DEKALB—There were warning signs throughout the season, moments of brilliance from Lincoln-Way East sophomore AJ Henning that showed he could be a devastating offensive force. The speedster came up huge in wins against Maine South and Lincoln-Way Central.
The Griffins never leaned too heavily on Henning though, he never became the focal point of the offense. Maybe that extra energy saved allowed for the sparks that led Lincoln-Way East to a 23-14 win against Loyola in the Class 8A state title game on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
“It was a great play call, the line got a great push up front,” Henning said. “I hit the seam and went right up the sideline. “
Henning had 17 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns. His 42-yard touchdown run with 3:44 to play sealed the win for the Griffins (14-0). Henning’s first touchdown run, a terrific 63-yard sweep around the right end, came in the third quarter and gave the Griffins a brief 13-7 lead.
“[Henning] had a little injury that slowed him down a little bit this season,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “He’s a special talent, but the first one to give credit to his blockers. When the chips are down you have a shot when [Henning] has the ball.
Loyola drove down the field and retook the advantage on a two-yard run by quarterback Quinn Boyle with 9:12 remaining.
Lincoln-Way East kicker Dominic Dzioban kicked a 32-yard field goal with 5:11 to play that put the Griffins ahead 16-14 and set up Henning’s game-sealing fireworks.
The Ramblers (12-2) were able to gain plenty of yardage, out-gaining the Griffins 354 yards to 253 yards, but just weren’t able to get into the end zone enough.
Loyola quarterback Quinn Boyle was 27 for 44 for 315 yards and one touchdown. Receiver Noah Jones caught eight passes for 135 yards and Rory Boos caught eight for 84 yards.
Lincoln-Way East quarterback Brendan Morrissey was 5 for 11 for 79 yards and one touchdown.
“[Henning] is a heck of a player, the speed definitely killed us,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “The majority of kids playing against us don’t make that run. He just hesitates and waits for something to develop and then he explodes.”
Lincoln-Way East finished second in Class 7A in 2012 and won the 8A title in 2005.Tags: Lincoln-Way East, Loyola