NORMAL – As what turned out to be the final seconds of Normal Community West High School ticked away, fans might not have been able to see it in his face, but senior quarterback Carson Camp’s posture – in a catcher’s pose, his head bowed – seem to say it all for his team. As those seconds and the Wildcats’ season slipped away, junior wide receiver Zach Jurich walked over and patted his field general on the shoulder.

New Lenox, Ill.-based Providence Catholic High School scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to outpace and eliminate Normal West, defeating the Wildcats, 19-14, in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A first round contest, held at Wildcat Field.

A crowd of roughly 700 fans braved mostly cloudy and windy conditions to cheer the Wildcats on hoping their team would be able to use the home victory to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

After a scoreless first quarter, Wildcat defenders did manage to pin Providence Catholic deep in their own territory forcing them to punt and provide the Wildcats their own 43 to begin a drive. Normal West, led by Camp, took time to drive down field concluding the drive when Camp connected with senior wide receiver Cole Hernandez on a 7 yard touchdown pass at the 10:13 mark in the quarter. Senior kicker Adam Conrad followed up with a successful extra point to put the Wildcats up, 7-0.

Providence Catholic (7-3) countered later in the quarter when junior quarterback Kevin Conway connected with senior wide receiver Lucas Porto for what would be the first of three scoring plays between the two on the day, this first one good for a 32 yard touchdown with 1:07 left until halftime, followed by junior kicker Lucca Kessler’s extra point. That tied the game going into the half at 7-7.

During the third quarter, the Wildcats would have three possessions ending in punts, the Celtics two before scoring revved up in the fourth quarter. Conway would find Porto on his way to the end zone when they connected for a second score, from 35 yards out, at 11:53 in the fourth quarter, putting the Celtics up, 13-7 following Kessler’s missed extra point.

With around 11 minutes to go in the contest and the Wildcats at their own 35 on fourth down, they punted. But Providence Catholic junior defensive back Dakota Straight mishandled his reception of it, seeing the ball hit the ground. In the scramble to get it, Wildcats senior defensive back Gavin Tellor came up with the ball at the Celtics’ 37 yard line. Loud cheers could be heard from Wildcats fans as a result.

One play later, Camp connected with junior wide receiver LeTre Billups who dodged defenders for a touchdown. Millmore’s extra point led to loud cheers from fans as his successful kick put Normal West in front, 14-13, with 10:41 remaining.

The ensuing kickoff for Normal West (7-3) and the Celtics’ return put the visitors on their own 24 for their next drive. They advanced to Normal West’s 40, but were flagged for holding which pushed the Celtics back to midfield. From there, the Celtics were able to get to West’s 11 when Conway took matters into his own hands. As Normal West defenders grasped at and hit him, he ran toward the goal line getting across for a touchdown with 7:27 remaining. The Celtics opted to try for 2 points, sending Porto to accomplish the task, but West defenders prevented it, leading to the final score.

In the huddle in the end zone afterward, head coach Nate Fincham could be heard telling the boys “you did the season the right way.”

“Ultimately, they’re a good football team,” Fincham said afterward about the Celtics. “They’re physical up front and they made some adjustments. But I couldn’t say enough about how proud I am of our guys for everything they did. They battled. They gave this team everything they wanted and I’m proud of everything they did.”

Despite not advancing, Fincham said there is still plenty for his team to be proud of, including claiming a share of this season’s Big 12 Conference title. These players “were part of my first group of players last year to the quarterfinals and in no way shape or form do I think they are a 1-and-done type team.

“They brought a conference championship to us this year and I couldn’t be more proud of the group,” the second-season head coach added. “When it’s all said and done, you’ve got some record setters in this class.“ Those players he singled out were Camp, Hernandez, and offensive lineman Skyler Hufeld.

“Normal West is a very good team and they were very well coached,” said Providence Catholic head coach Mark Coglianese. “We’re such a run-heavy team and we don’t throw all that much that maybe, we caught them by surprise.

“We were fortunate to score late in the first half,” Coglianese added, admitting he didn’t want to see his team behind at halftime. “We were scrambling at times. Normal West throws a lot of formations at you. They give you a lot to prepare for.”

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