New London had never been in this position.
Up early, up comfortably, and competing for a trophy at the UNI-Dome caught coach Mark McSorley’s Eight-Player squad by surprise. By the end of Thursday morning’s title game against resurgent Rockford, New London had left no doubt about its championship qualities.
An impressive 55-14 victory secured the Tigers’ (12-1) first football championship and the school’s first IHSAA team title since an indoor track win in 1959.
“It just feels so great,” McSorley said. “We knew if we could hold them before half, then come out of halftime and score, we could get it done.”
Up to Thursday’s opening kickoff, Rockford (11-2) had written one of best tales of the 2018 football season by entering Week 1 on a 23-game losing streak and winding up playing for an Eight-Player championship. But New London would never trail in the continuous clock win, making a defensive stop in the opening minute, then scoring on a quick 32-yard touchdown pass from Isaac McSorley to Mason Porter. McSorley would finish with 194 yards passing on just seven completions, with four flying to senior Darius Whaley.
Keontae Luckett would take the next New London drive back to the end zone on a 55-yard run.
“This is a special team,” Luckett told media members through tears after the game. “Everybody worked so hard to get here.”
Rockford cut into the lead to start the second quarter, scoring on a three-yard run by Dillon Schriever. That 14-6 deficit would be as close as coach Torian Wolf’s Warriors would get; New London rattled off the game’s next 41 points. By forcing four turnovers and taking six touchdown drives of 50 yards or longer, the Tigers dominated. Luckett finished with a game-high 133 yards rushing and junior Jordan Johnson added two rushing scores, too.
Quarterback Jacob Staudt would finish as Rockford’s top rusher – 24 carries for 113 yards – but only found the end zone by tossing a pass to Schriever before the game’s final whistle.
New London had one just one postseason football game in program history prior to this season. By edging perennial power Fremont-Mills in an overtime semifinal, the Tigers earned their spot to smile and hug on the UNI-Dome turf with the Eight-Player title.