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Cary-Grove rallies to beat East St. Louis, win Illinois 6A football championship

Cary-Grove scored go-ahead touchdown with 1:19 remaining

NORMAL, ILLINOIS – The Cary-Grove Trojans and East St. Louis Flyers produced an instant classic in the Illinois Class 6A football championship game back in 2021, a one-point win for the Trojans. 

The rematch on Saturday at Hancock Stadium may have even topped it.

Cary-Grove overcame a five-point fourth-quarter deficit with a touchdown and 2-point conversion from Logan Abrams with 1 minute 19 seconds remaining and then secured a thrilling 23-20 victory with an interception by Patrick Weaver with 62 seconds left.

"It was a great win for our kids, our program, our town – everyone who believed in us," Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said.

"I'm proud of my guys," East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said. "... They gave all that they had. We just came up a little too short."

Cary-Grove (12-2), which earned its second 6A championship in three seasons, led East St. Louis (11-3) after the first quarter, 8-0, and at halftime, 15-6, but trailed going into the fourth quarter after two Larevious Woods touchdown runs in the third quarter put the Flyers ahead 20-15.

"It wasn't looking good for a while there," Seaburg said, "but our kids just showed great resilience."

Cary-Grove pieced together a 19-play drive that covered 71 yards and took 10 minutes and 41 seconds off the clock. Abrams, a sophomore fullback, scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining, his 26th of the season, and then ran in the 2-point conversion.  

East St. Louis had one more chance but did not have its senior quarterback, Robert "Pops" Battle, a four-year starter who left the game with an injury in the third quarter. Battle completed 14 of 16 passes for 139 yards and ran for 52 yards and a TD before leaving the game.

Battle's backup, freshman Reese Shanklin, completed two of his three passes for two yards in the third quarter. In the final minute, with the game on the line, he was stopped for a one-yard loss on first down and then was intercepted on his second-down pass attempt.    

Cary-Grove was able to start celebrating its second title in three seasons, while the Flyers were left to wonder what would have happened if Battle hadn't gotten injured. 

"Pops definitely adds that extra dynamic that we were missing," Sunkett said. "That last drive, you're talking about a dual-threat quarterback who can make things happen from the pocket. It definitely would have been nice to have him. I hate seeing him end his career the way it happened, with an injury, and couldn't finish the ballgame. But he's had a great four-year career. He gave it all up for his team today."

In the end, it was Cary-Grove's triple-option offense that made the difference.

The Trojans racked up 199 yards on the ground on 54 rushing attempts, an average of 3.7 per, and were led by 87 yards and two TDs from Abrams, 68 yards from senior running back Andrew Prio and 45 from junior quarterback Peyton Seaburg. 

Seaburg completed his lone pass attempt – a 19-yard touchdown pass to Prio midway through the second quarter that put Cary-Grove ahead 15-6. 

Woods, a junior running back, led East St. Louis with 98 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Battle accounted for 191 yards and a TD before his injury. 


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- Nate Latsch | | @SBLiveIL