ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Forreston High School has three state championship trophies in its trophy case. All of them have been earned in the last seven years. The first one came in 2014. That’s the one we focus on now in our ‘Glory Days’ segment.
It was a huge Forreston crowd that made the long trip to Champaign for the 1A championship game. It was a cold day. The temperature was 27 degrees at kickoff with a brisk wind blowing, but the chill and the distance weren’t about to stop Forreston fans from being a part of this day. They had waited too long for a state championship team. The Cardinals came in with a 13-1 record. Their opponent Carrollton was 13-0. Carrolton had an outstanding quarterback in Jacob Smith. He had passed for more than 2,400 yards and 25 touchdowns. Forreston was ready though with it’s ground game and its stingy defense.
In the second quarter the Cardinals gave the ball to Aaron Shelton who dove into the end zone to cap off a ten yard run. The Cardinals had a 6-0 lead.
Just before halftime Spencer Cruthis powered in for a touchdown. The Cardinals led 14-7 at the break.
In the third quarter defensive end Kendal Kuelling made a big play leaping and snatching a pass out of the air for an interception.
With just over four minutes to play in the third quarter quarterback Robert DeVries kept the football and scored a four-yard touchdown. That put the Cardinals up 20-7. Carrollton answered with a touchdown and a conversion later that quarter to make it 20-15.
The fourth quarter was a tense, scoreless standoff. The clock couldn’t tick down fast enough for Forreston fans, but it finally did. The Cardinals had a 20-15 win and that much anticipated first state championship.
To hear our interview with quarterback Robert DeVries click on the media player or continue reading.
[INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT DEVRIES]
(SCOTT) Robert, 2014 was the first time any of you guys had played at State. You were used to playing at the smaller stadiums in the Northwest Upstate Illini and then you were at Memorial Stadium in Champaign which holds 60,000. Were you guys a little in awe of that environment?
(ROBERT DEVRIES) “I’d have to say yes. Without a doubt. We had never played on turf before so putting it into perspective plaing in a stadium like that, I remember that first drive I was so nervous I think I fumbled on the first drive. Thankfully we didn’t lose it but I know everyone was a little taken aback and our crowd was huge because no one had ever been there before so it was a really great atmosphere and a great experienc.”
(SCOTT) You mentioned the Forreston crowd. Were you aware of the cheering and the noise they made during the game or were you so locked-in on the game that you didn’t notice it?
(DEVRIES) “The one thing about Forreston and I’d say the whole NUIC is they travel well. The fan support is crazy so you know you’re going to have fans backing you. We knew they were there but it was cold that day. I just remember it being so cold and so focused on the game. It was loud but we were more focused on the game than anything.”
(SCOTT) In that championship game you had success personally running the football. You rushed for 143 yards. Did you see something on the films in Carrollton’s defense that led you to believe you could have success running the ball on them?
(DEVRIES) “I got a lot of credit growing up and getting the ball, but those guys up front did a great job. Also Spencer Cruthis that day had a great running game as well. Luckily I got my number called a lot, and there were great big holes and stuff. That was a great Carrollton football team but we did see some advantages of running the heavy, double tight end set with me running the ball allowing another guy out front to creat some big holes. Aiden Carr, Brady Bronkema, Dylan Hensley, Nick Wilson, Jacob Cunningham, those guys all deserve more credit than they ever got because I was the pretty guy running the football getting to score all the touchdowns but they did a great job.”
(SCOTT) What play or moment during the game or during the pregame stands out in your mind?
(DEVRIES) “Before the game, I don’t know if you ever saw the…we had a highlight video and it showed they came out on the field early and wrote ‘Hawks Rule’ on the football field so that we could see it in warmups, and you know, we didn’t really need any more motivation but it kind of gave us a little more motivation and coach Diduch and coach Zick always had us ready to go with their speech and a past player would always write a letter as well so we were wired and ready to go and that litte bit of motivation I think really drove us to come out and start hitting right away.”
(SCOTT) Forreston had had so many good football teams before 2014 that couldn’t quite get over the hump and make it to State. Once you guys got there did it lift a big weigh off your shoulders?
(DEVIES) “I would say yes, I mean, there was a lot of pressure to get there, but when we were there I feel like the pressure was off, but those guys that came before us they really set the foundation for our program. They were mentors even after they were gone. Things they wish they would have known when they were playing, but there was pressure but we knew our town was behind us so we just got to play football the game everyone loves.”
(SCOTT) Since 2014 Forreston has won two more state championships. When you guys won your title, did you feel like that was just the beginning of big things to come for Forreston?
(DEVRIES) “Ah yes. There were some, usually you have those eighth grade teams how they’re going to be when they’re going up against other NUIC talent. I think AJ Christensen, for example, his team never lost a game growing up. Those Forreston teams were very, very special. They had a lot of talent. A lot of those players helped out every single day on scout team and even on some plays for us, so we felt like they were going to be continuing to be a powerhouse and we were building something special there, but a credit to them. They put a lot more work in too. They put a ton of work in regardless of what we did before them.”
NOTE: Our thanks to Robert DeVries for joining us to reflect on that great Forreston team. DeVries now works as an assistant basketball coach at his college alma mater Quincy University.