ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — It’s that time again when we recognize those players and teams who stood out during the high school season. It’s our Sports Connection awards.
The award for the top single game performance by a player goes to Rockford Lutheran running back Tiger Brown. In week four at Winnebago he played on a different level then everyone else. He rushed for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He hauled in four passes…one went for another touchdown. And on defense he forced a fumble.
Our award for the most improved team goes to the DUPEC Rivermen. They won only three games last season. Going into this weekend they were 7-3 and they were in the second round of the playoffs. Teams in the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference had to take the Rivermen very seriously.
Our award for the player with the best break-out season goes to Hononegah quarterback Payton Mather. Last year he backed up NIC-10 MVP Ryan VanSchelven. This season Mather more than filled those shoes. Going into this weekend he had set a NIC-10 record with 28 touchdown passes.
The award for the area’s best big-play threat goes to East senior running back Tay Lake. No one ripped off more runs of 50-plus yards than he did this season. Lake rushed for more than 1,000 yards despite being fully healthy for only four games.
Our award for the top underclassman at the small school level goes to DuPec sophomore quarterback Hunter Hoffman. There are a lot of reason’s behind DuPec’s rise this year. Hoffman is the biggest. His strong, accurate arm gave the Rivermen a balanced attack. Two more years of Hoffman at quarterback bodes well for DuPec the next two years.
Our pick as the top big school underclassman is Harlem sophomore Adrian Palos. Whether he’s playing linebacker or running back, he’s a force…strong and physical. Watch for him to play an even bigger role next year.
Our pick for the top passing combination at the small school level is the North Boone duo of quarterback Logan Emanuel and receiver Cooper Baden. They had some monster games. One of them came against Stillman Valley when Baden hauled in 17 Emanuel passes for 182 yards.
Our top passing combo at the big school level is the Harlem duo of James Cooper Jr. and Brandt Hixson. They clicked right from the start of the season when in the opener against Hononegah Hixson had 17 receptions for 249 yards. Cooper and Hixson set several school and NIC-10 records despite the fact Hixson played the entire season with an injured shoulder.
Our award for the top band goes to Hononegah.
Our top mascot honor goes to the always enthusiastic Harlem Huskie.
Our top lineman award goes to Byron senior Tyler Elsbury. He’s big. He’s mobile. He dominates on both the offensive line and the defensive line.
Our choice for the game of the year is the Stillman Valley-Byron game in week two that was won by Stillman Valley 18-16. These two great programs put on quite a show leaving it all on the field. Chad Gerig’s 14 yard touchdown run on a bootleg late in the game was the winning score. That game also saw Byron’s 28 game Big Northern Conference winning streak end.
Our award for the best finish to a game goes to the Auburn Knights. In week 7 against Jefferson, Auburn quarterback Ja’Quan Brady hooked up with Kevin Williams on a 56 yard ‘Hail Mary’ on the final play of the game to give Auburn a 26-22 win.
The best moment of the season happened at Stillman Valley in week nine before the game between the Cardinals and Genoa-Kingston. Representatives from both schools presented checks to Stillman Valley assistant coach Scott Rempfer to help him pay medical expenses. Rempfer has cancer. Players from both teams gave Rempfer handshakes and hugs.
Finally, our MVP award at the small school level goes to Freeport Aquin quarterback William Gustafson. He is the ultimate dual-threat quarterback. He’s extremely fast on his feet, and very accurate throwing downfield. A prime example of that was in week three when he ran for three touchdowns and he passed for three touchdowns against Milledgeville. Gustafson has led the Bulldogs to a 10-0 record going into this weekend. He’s only a junior so look for a lot more from him next year.
Our MVP at the big school level goes to Boylan quarterback Jon Starck. We know Mather at Hononegah and Cooper at Harlem have more impressive stats, but Starck has impressed us with his efficient play and his steady hand in guiding the Titans to the NIC-10 championship and ten straight wins going into this weekend. He has set Boylan passing records this season with his arm, and his running ability is overlooked. He rarely makes mistakes. Plan and simple, Jon Starck is a winner.