DeKALB – For Stillman Valley football coach Mike Lalor, making the trip down to Champaign for the IHSA State Football Championships was somewhat of a ritual.
Lalor’s Stillman Valley Cardinals won the Class 2A state title in both 1999 and 2000 – the first two years the IHSA held the state finals at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.
The Cardinals would go on to win the Class 3A title in 2003 and 2009, taking second place in 2010.
Friday, Lalor’s Cardinals took the field at Huskie Stadium for the first time. Just as it was during their first trip to Champaign, Stillman Valley was victorious, getting a 43-41 win over St. Joseph-Ogden in overtime.
Illinois’ Memorial Stadium has more than twice the capacity of Huskie Stadium. It’s something Lalor noticed standing on the west sideline in front of a throng of Cardinal fans.
“All I know is it seemed like down on the field the crowd it was louder. I’m assuming it’s the same amount of people [compared with Champaign], a closer setting,” Lalor said. “I’m not taking anything away from Champaign, that was a great experience, too. I think what’s kind of going to be a good thing, if they alternate these back and forth, is if somebody’s fortunate to make a second appearance, they’ll play somewhere else. I think they’ve both been great experiences.”
Lalor was also complimentary of the brand-new Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center. He also felt his team had better fan support in DeKalb. Huskie Stadium is roughly 30 miles from the high school.
“It’s literally just a 40-minute trip down the road there,” Lalor said. “I assume we probably brought more than we would have brought down there. I assume the numbers will speak to that whenever it’s all totaled up.”
Three of the four state champions Friday – Lena-Winslow, Sterling Newman and Stillman Valley, are from north of Interstate 80.
The only winner from the southern half of the state was Rochester in the nightcap. The Rockets, who defeated Geneseo, 16-8, became the first public school in Illinois history to win four consecutive state titles.
This time, Rochester was in sort of a foreign territory, after winning the past three titles in Champaign.
“I thought the hospitality and everything was really good here. It was good to have a change of venues,” Rochester coach Derek Leonard said. “We’ve been there three years in a row so I thought this was really neat to come up here.”