Sophomore AJ Henning busts loose, leads Lincoln-Way East to 8A championship

A.J Henning (3) of Lincoln-Way East dives for a first down in 8A action at Huskie Stadium, November 25, 2017 Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

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.

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  • Public Powerhouses

    My Public Powerhouses have now won four straight 8A State Championship games against Loyola starting with Bolingbrook in 2011; Naperville Central in 2013; Maine South in 2016 and Lincoln-Way East in 2017. Loyola seemed wornout by the second half in all four of these games. They just do not have the manpower to compete with my Public Powerhouses.

    • Hawk Yeah!

      State Championship was 2weeks ago last weekend was just a scrimmage w LA Their road to the finals was a fluke

      • CCLBLUE

        LWE was a well deserved champion, best team in the state. Spare me the overrated LA bull. Maine South never had the lead against LWE….LA was up with 5 minutes to play.

        And yes, LA had an easier path to the finals. That is the system. They also beat HF two years ago in the quarterfinals when most thought they were the two best teams in Illinois.

        Remember that LA team? Running clock against MS that year.

    • JackStriker

      How is winning in 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017 four in a row. You mean, “A public school has beaten Loyola the last four times they have met in the State Finals.”

      Maybe if you had gone to a private school you could have more clearly articulated what you meant to say.

      Catholic League South:

      Loyola: State Finals
      Mt. Carmel: Semi-Finals
      Providence: Semi-Finals
      St. Rita: Quarter-finals.

      Name another conference that had 4 teams finish in the top 8 of their class. Good luck.

      • Public Powerhouses

        It is impossible for virtually all conferences to have teams in the top 8 of three different classes because the vast majority contain teams that by enrollment are sized into only one or two classes, most often with all but one or two teams in one class where they frequently are matched against each other before the round of 8. If IHSA increased the multiplier so that all Catholic blue teams became 8A, only one would survive until the round of 8 in most years. I will be calling the IHSA with the suggestion that the multiplier be increased to 2.5 from the current 1.65 to eliminate the possibility of multiple teams in the round of 8.

  • Doghouse Riley

    Just like last year, Loyola looked gassed in the fourth quarter, while their opponent looked energized. Better conditioning might help. Or maybe less turkey.

    • Kingcorey

      Nah one player beat them they looked like the better team lwe just had the best player on the field he’s a Home run hitter

  • Siwash 21

    Same formula for LWE: tough run D + win turnovers + kicking game + #3 = victory

  • South Side Johnny

    Wow, with Morrissey literally immobile against one of the states best defenses it looked pretty grim for the Griffins right after half. The entire offense is predicated on Morrissey keeping defenses off balance with the read option. Props to coach Z for leaving him in there the entire game. AJ is a true “game changer” no doubt and Defense wins championships. Great job by the D line and backers keeping the Griffins in the game. I almost had to turn the volume down – those announcers were severely biased and very annoying…..Congrats LWE!!

  • Bill Walsh

    Glad to see a public school with defined boundaries beat a school who recruits all over the 30 mile radius allowed by the IHSA. Loyola is “proud” they have students from over 80 different zip codes – most of which are football players. Congratulations LWE!

    • Chris

      Bill if you don’t think public schools cheat boundaries then you are mistaken! I know a few coaches of 7 and 8A schools that have told me that this is a constant problem in all schools!

    • AMDG

      Roughly half of Loyola’s 30 mile radius is in Lake Michigan. Additionally, a significant percentage of kids on that team come from Glenview, which you can walk to in 5 minutes from Loyola. But, pay no attention to the facts. You know what you know, so why let facts get in the way of a good narrative?

    • Reality

      The ignorance continues.

    • Bill Bradski

      You’re an idiot and know nothing of “recruiting” , It costs money to go to the school so everyone going there is a “choice”.

      • John Wooden

        Loyola gives over $4 million a year in financial aid on a need basis – check out the website. That can cover a lot of “need” and make the “choice” of going there easy. Like a number of other private schools, Loyola wants to win a state title every year, not 2nd place finishes.

  • Public Powerhouses

    Loyola again completely dominated the Catholic Blue , but again fell short of a state championship. This convincingly confirms that the Catholic Blue is extremely over-rated.

    • Bill Walsh

      Is the recent rise of CPS teams like Phillips, Curie & Al Raby affecting traditional catholic league powers like Mt. Carmel, St Rita & Brother Rise? Seems like the Catholic Blue teams have been down the past few years since the CPS schools have gotten stronger.

    • Reality check

      Public Powerhouses, pick a lane. You are claiming all public schools in Illinois. This is the equivalent of ripping the Big East every time one of the other D1 schools beats them. There are maybe 12 -15 strong Catholic football schools. Pick a conference. Calling the hundreds of public schools “My” is just nonsense. You are not an alum, a tax payer, or ther wise affiliated with any of these supposed powers you claim. Give it up.

      • Public Powerhouses

        They only need to be Public Powerhouses for me to support them. There are at least 10 conferences of Public Powerhouses that have 5 teams that are comparable to the top 5 in the CCL Blue. Last year the CCL-Blue had only Loyola go beyond the first round—it varies from year to year. Rita got lucky against St. Charles North this year with two interceptions in its end zone, and then Rita was blown away the next week by Lake Zurich ,49-17.



  • mcheezeman

    Those who know LWE, know the offense runs through Morrissey running the ball It sets up everything. Clearly, he couldn’t run at all this game. For LWE to even be in the game, let alone win it, is quite honestly surprising. Without AJ Henning, East loses to LWC and probably a few others, and tonight…..he showed he’s a star again. I hate anointing young kids, but he’s got that something most players don’t quite have. Congrats East!!


      The kid’s a game changer. LA throttled him the 1st half but he was too explosive to contain for the entire game. He’s going to give DC’s a bunch of headaches for the next two years.

  • Randy

    Lincolnway East played with key players injured and missing, they didn’t complain, they just found a way to win!

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