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By Drake Skleba
For the Bugle 

Historic season comes to a close for Minooka

2019 Indians cement a legacy as one of school's top teams ever

 

Last updated 11/20/2019 at 2:01pm



On a cold Saturday evening in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood of Chicago, the historic 2019 football campaign of the Minooka Indians came to an end.

After winning a school-record 11 consecutive games to open up the season, the Indians (11-1) fell 38-21 to Chicago Catholic League Blue-power Brother Rice (8-4) in their IHSA Class 8A quarterfinal game.

"Turnovers," Minooka Hall of Fame coach John Belskis said. "We drove right down the field on Rice on our first two drives of the game and threw interceptions that kept us out of the end zone. We should have been up 14-0, instead we were down 7-0.

"We did some things we hadn't done all season that contributed to our defeat. Nonetheless, the kids had a historical season and I am so proud of them."

Minooka senior quarterback Seth Lehr completed 22 of his 32 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns in his final game as an Indian.

Lehr's favorite target, senior wide receiver Trent Hudak, hauled in six passes for 179 yards and both touchdowns.

Lehr finished his 2019 season, throwing for more than 1,800 yards with 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions after missing two games due to injury.

Hudak finished his 2019 campaign, with 44 catches for 849 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The 2019 Indians, are the only team in Minooka football history to complete a perfect 9-0 regular season and are the only team in Minooka football history, to win 11 consecutive games. The 11 wins are the most is school history and the Indians won their first, outright, undefeated, conference championship, since 1971.

The 2019 Indians story began back in August of 2018.

As juniors, Lehr and Hudak, joined 15 other fellow junior starters and led the 2018 Indians to a 7-3 record, falling to eventual IHSA Class 8A state champion Loyola in a Class 8A first-round game.

In the newly revamped Southwest Prairie Conference, the Southwest Prairie West Indians opened the 2019 season with four consecutive wins against SPC East opponents. The Indians outscored Joliet West, Plainfield South, Plainfield East and Joliet Central by a combined 177-34 score.

In the Indians' first three inaugural SPC West contests, Minooka defeated IHSA playoff-bound, Oswego East (24-7), Plainfield North (34-0) and Yorkville (19-10).

A Week 8 SPC West 27-13 victory over West Aurora set up an SPC West battle of the unbeatens between the Indians and Oswego in Oswego.

Minooka entered the contest No. 6 in the Associated Press' Class 8A state rankings, while Oswego checked in at No. 8.

Oswego had won eight consecutive SPC football championships and had amassed a 66-2 record in that span.

Trailing 21-14 in the third quarter, the Indians rallied behind Lehr and Hudak. The duo would hook up on a 23-yard scoring strike to tie the game at 21-21 late in the third quarter.

With 9:19 remaining, Lehr and the Minooka's senior-led offensive line (Jake Shipla, Dylan Meyer, Mike Susnar, Ryan Doody, Chris Carpenter and TE Mike Zito) began the drive that will be remembered forever in Minooka football lore.

The Indians drove 69 yards, taking 7:19 off the fourth quarter clock and culminating with 6-2, 225 junior fullback Zach Wingerter's six-yard, game-winning touchdown run.

A minute later, Indian senior free safety Zach Grayson, with the help of senior defensive tackle Drew Gutknecht, finished off the Panthers with an interception.

The Indians won the first outright conference championship since the 1971 when the 8-0 Indians won the old Little 7 Conference championship.

Seniors Steven Gonzales, Noah Ellens, Ernesto Ramirez, Connor Etzkorn, Nick Schultz, Tommy Burrs, Connor Campbell and Jake Kellams, all were junior starters when the historical Indian run began.

Ellens ran for more than 1,000 yards and scored 20 touchdowns from his halfback position in 2019.

Ramirez tied the Minooka school record for interceptions in a season with eight from his strong safety position.

"As I have said all season, the 2019 Minooka Indians were a group of hard-working, good football players," Belskis said. "In many of our games, we were not the most talented football team on the field. Our kids had something that the more-talented teams they defeated did not have —heart and teamwork.

"More than that, their character out-shined their football abilities, which is a credit to themselves and their parents. They are outstanding young men and they will be missed. I want to thank my outstanding coaching staff and the Minooka High School family for our historical 2019 season."

The season finale was the final game for Hall of Fame Associate Coach Terry McCombs, who announced his retirement after the game.

 

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