Saturday Frenzy Highlight Zone: Playoff Semifinals

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Maroa-Forsyth quarterback Ian Benner breaks free for a touchdown in a crucial 4th-and-3 situaton during the fourth quarter of Saturday's 25-14 win over Shelbyville. Maroa-Forsyth quarterback Ian Benner breaks free for a touchdown in a crucial 4th-and-3 situaton during the fourth quarter of Saturday's 25-14 win over Shelbyville.

What a wild Saturday in the IHSA football semifinals! Seven local teams fight for a spot in the state championship game in DeKalb!

1A
(1) Tuscola 21, (6) Athens 14

At Athens, No. 1 seed Tuscola wins a ground-and-pound game between a pair of high-powered offenses. Red-hot No. 6 Athens showed it deserved a better seed after taking down Warrensburg-Latham, Argenta-Oreana and Red Hill in consecutive games but Tuscola landed one more punch and advanced to the 1A state title game. Head coach Andy Romine's squad is back in the championship for the first time since it went to three straight from 2009-11.

Championship: The CIC champions will play Lena-Winslow (13-0) at 10 a.m. on Friday the 24th at Huskie Stadium.

2A
(4) Maroa-Forsyth 25, (6) Shelbyville 14
Windy conditions became wet and then took an even more severe turn toward sleet in a wacky battle between two explosively talented teams. Enemy No. 1 for both squads wasn't the All-State talent across the line of scrimmage but rather Mother Nature -- the two teams combined for six turnovers in the first half alone thanks to sideways rain and gusting winds in Shelbyville. The Rams carried a 14-7 lead into the half thanks to a touchdown pass, run and two-point conversion from All-State quarterback Turner Pullen (who finishes with 68 touchdowns on the season). However, the second half belonged to the Trojans, who caught fire when sophomore quarterback Ian Benner somehow managed to grip the slippery ball well enough to throw two deep touchdowns to speedy receiver Kameron Boline. When Benner busted off a highlight-reel, fourth-down touchdown run up the middle in the fourth quarter, it sealed the Trojans' seventh trip to the state finals under head coach Josh Jostes.

(2) Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 14, (1) Newman Central Catholic (Sterling) 8
In a game that surprised many (except for GCMS fans) the Falcons' stifling defense proved its state-leading numbers (5.1 points per game allowed in the regular season) were more than statistics. Head coach Mike Allen's squad stamped out No. 1 seed Newman Central Catholic despite the fact electric NCC came into the playoffs averaging 43.6 points per game.

Championship: (4) Maroa-Forsyth and (2) GCMS will square off in the 2A title game at 1 p.m. on Friday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

3A
(16) Pleasant Plains 41, (3) Anna-Jonesboro 2

All postseason long fans have wondered when the Cinderella of the entire state will have its "dropped shoe" moment. The answer? Not yet. No. 16 Pleasant Plains continues its scorching run through the field with a 41-2 thrashing over one of Southern Illinois' top teams pound-for-pound. The Cardinals have found new life in the playoffs and will continue their historic run against No. 5 seed and perennial state terror Immaculate Conception Catholic from Elmhurst, which is the defending state champion in 3A.

Championship: (16) Pleasant Plains (10-3) and (5) IC Catholic (Elmhurst) (12-1) are set for the 4 p.m. slot on Friday at Huskie Stadium.

4A
(1) Rochester 31, (2) Highland 14

If Pleasant Plains is the best-kept secret in Illinois, Rocheser is the worst-kept. The Rockets continued their virtually blemish-free season with a comfortable 31-14 win over a big, physical Highland team. Rochester's offense is what grabs headlines thanks to the virtuoso that is quarterback Nic Baker, but the Rockets defense was impressive on Saturday, limiting Highland to 14 points after it had scored 77, 57 and 45 points in the three playoff games leading up to the semifinals.

Championship: (1) Rochester takes on (5) Morris, a bit of a surprise team in the title game at 11-2. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday at Huskie Stadium.

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