Prairie Ridge running back Jackson Willis was handed the ball and tried to push up the middle on Saturday. But despite the 5-6 and 175-pound senior’s best efforts, he couldn’t move.
That’s because Phillips star Jahleel Billingsley, who is 6-5 and weighs 225 pounds, grabbed the back of Willis’ jersey.
“I was trying to get away but [Billingsley] just held me in place there and I felt like a little kid,” Willis said. “It was kind of embarrassing, but that speaks to his athleticism and how good he is.”
For the second consecutive week, Billingsley came up huge for the Wildcats as they went on to beat the Wolves 24-19 in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs at Gately Stadium.
Quarterback Leonard Smith, who had been out since Week 5 with a lower-body injury, started for the Phillips (9-2). But after a disappointing first drive, coach Troy McAllister made the decision to replace him with Billingsley, who has made an oral commitment to Alabama.
Billingsley threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Fabian McCray, trotted into the end zone on a pair of two-point conversion attempts and made a touchdown-saving tackle on a kick return.
Is there anything Billingsley, who also ran for 88 yards on 13 carries and kicked a kickoff, can’t do?
His teammates don’t seem to think so.
“No,” tight end Byron Lewis said. “He’s good.”
Running back Anthony Anderson: “He’s multi-talented. He can do a lot.”
Prairie Ridge’s defense faced the tough task of stopping Billingsley. And while they managed to hold him to 88 rushing yards on 13 carries, Wolves coach Chris Schremp didn’t have an answer when asked how you stop a player like Billingsley.
“Good question,” he said. “We couldn’t figure it out today. I don’t know how you tackle him, he’s just big, he’s strong.”
But unlike last week, Billingsley wasn’t Phillips’ lone star.
Anderson made his presence known in the second half when he scored two touchdowns. The junior ran for 138 yards on 16 carries, including a 51-yard run for the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile on defense, Lewis came in clutch. He stopped Prairie Ridge (8-3) from scoring in the first half by batting down quarterback Connor Lydon’s pass on fourth-and-goal. He also cemented the Wildcats’ win by getting a seven-yard sack to make it fourth-and-15 with less than 40 seconds remaining in the game.
“We always felt like we had the game in control,” Lewis said. “We brought the energy to it. We knew we had the game in the bag [after his sack].”
The Wolves didn’t go down without a fight and their game plan was simple: Give the ball to Willis and let him run.
It almost worked. The Wildcats struggled to stop Willis, who ran for 145 yards on 38 carries.
“What they do is so unique and it’s so hard to simulate in practice,” McAllister said of Willis. “And that dive, you know, we shut it down all week in practice and then it hits and it hits and it hits. But for the most part our defense was bend and not break and that’s what they did today.”
Fourth-seeded Phillips will play top-seeded Cary-Grove on the road next weekend.
More Sun-Times High School Sports stories:
- PLAYOFF BRACKETS, SCORES: all eight classes
- Simeon beats Lincoln-Way West in high scoring battle
- Lisle bursts into Class 3A quarterfinals with win against North Boone
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