By Al Zipsie

Snow covered fields were shoveled off giving the 1A and 2A State semifinal games a little ambiance Saturday in Lena and Lanark.

Forreston emerged as the NUIC school to represent in the State Championship game at the University of Illinois Friday morning at 10. In the lore of Forreston and Lena-Winslow playoff games, it was the Cardinals who won this battle 34-28.

After the Panthers tied the game at 28 all with 4:26 left in the game. The heroics came from Forreston junior Dom Christensen on a 75-yard kickoff return that turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. It was Dom's turn to be in the spotlight. His older brother A.J Christensen was all-state for Forreston leading the team to the title in 2016. He was a double hurdle state champion last spring as a senior.

The Panthers got the ball back but were stopped on fourth and one with 2:00 left at the Forreston 46 yard line.

The Cardinals now are in the state title for the third time in five years. They won it in 2014, 16 and hope to add 18.

Forreston and Lena Winslow had an all NUIC battle in the semifinal for the second straight year. Last year the Panthers survived 12-8 and went on to win the 1A title.

It seemed almost everybody but Forreston fans had Lena-Winslow to win this year's semifinal. However, that is why you play the game on the field and not on paper.

As good as the NUIC has been dominating in football, the toughest small school Conference in the State. The one thing that has been elusive us a school to win two straight titles.

Lena-Winslow was trying to defend but Forreston had other plans. Just last year it was the Cardinals going for back to back state titles only to have the Panthers ruin it.

Lena-Winslow had beat the Cardinals 36-16 back in week two when they dominated in the trenches. This time Forreston  (11-2) who has won nine straight controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

They meet Camp Point Central (12-1) in the title game. The Cardinals Kyle Zick will look to get a state title in his first year as head coach. He was an assistant under Denny Diduch in the first two state titles. The Cardinals are showing they can win the close games, for the third straight week over solid NUIC teams

"We played our best game of the year at the right time," said Zick.

Forreston marched 73 yards to score on the opening drive as Garret Baderstcher scored on a nine-yard run. Baderstcher who had three touchdowns on the day turned a costly Panther fumble into a two-yard TD as the Cardinals built a 20-6 lead.

The Panthers bounced right back to tie the game at 20 at intermission. Forreston went up 28-20 only to see Lena-Winslow answer on a Sean Ormiston TD and his two-point conversion to tie it at 28. Ormiston scored all four of the Panthers touchdowns and carried the ball 37 times for 161 yards.

That is when Christensen had the electric kickoff return which had Cardinal fans elated.

The NUIC just missed having two teams playing back to back for State Championships Friday. Eastland/Pearl City suffered their only loss of the season 14-7 to GSMC in the 2A semifinal. E/PC (12-1) also lost to GSMC in the first round last year. It was a scoreless tie at halftime.

E/PC answered a GCMS third quarter score to tie the game at seven early in the fourth quarter. Braden Smargiassi hit Lucas Peterson for a 37 yard gain that set up a touchdown. Jayden Kempel took a pitch from Smargiassi and then found his twin Jared Kempel for a seven-yard touchdown pass.

GCMS took the lead for good with 4:08 left in the game. After driving to the Wildcats 7 yard line, an errant shotgun snap went five yards behind the line of scrimmage but the quarterback recovered and hit his receiver for the touchdown. Down 14-7, E/PC would get the ball back but not able to score.

Also from the Stateline Byron will be in the 3A State Championship game Friday.

Stateline Sports Hub. Final NUIC Rankings.

  1. Forreston. 11-2. They deserve it and earned it as the lone team in the State Championship game.
  2. Lena-Winslow. 11-2. Had been dominating of late but hats off to Forreston.
  3. Eastland/Pearl City. 12-1. Only loss was a tough 14-7 in the 2A State semifinal to a solid team. They did beat both Forreston and Lena-Winslow in the regular season for the NUIC Northwest crown. Outstanding season for Jared McNutt in his first year at E/PC.
  4. Milledgeville. 10-1. 22-20 second round loss to a team in state title game shows Missiles were for real.
  5. Dakota. 8-4. After a 6-3 regular season, they caught fire in the playoffs rolling over Stockton, taking down previously unbeaten Ottawa Marquette before a 22-20 loss to Forreston in the quarterfinal.
  6. Stockton. 7-3. Loss in first round to Dakota.
  7. Orangeville. 5-5. Loss in opening round.
  8. Polo. 5-5. Lost in opener in final season before exit to 8 man football.
  9. Aquin. 4-5. A team with young talent just missed playoffs.
  10. River Ridge. 4-5 in final season before going to 8 man football.

NUIC Football notes. The following from the NUIC were named to the all-state team. 1A.

Isaiah Bruce. Lena-Winslow. Running back/defensive end. Colin Dvorak. Stockton. Running back/linebacker. Trey Engelbrecht. Dakota. Running back/linebacker. Mitchell Heinz. Forreston. Offensive lineman. Nate Rahn. Milledgeville. Linebacker.

2A. Addison Keltner. Eastland/Pearl City. Defensive lineman.

Bruce is a junior and the rest seniors.

Warren who finished 1-8 in the NUIC joins a football Coop with Blackhawk from South Wayne, WI next season. They will not be eligible for the playoffs in Illinois but will be in Wisconsin. Warren players are excited to join Blackhawk who won the Wisconsin Division 7 State Championship Thursday.