St. Francis might be the hottest high school football team in the state.
The Spartans were on the radar early in the season. Quarterback Alessio Milivojevic is a Ball State recruit and led St. Francis to the Class 4A semifinals last year.
But things didn’t start off well for the Spartans. Downers Grove North knocked them off in Wheaton in Week 1, then they lost on the road to Fenwick in Week 4. St. Francis was 2-2 halfway through the season and had fallen out of the conversation.
“We really woke up after Fenwick,” Spartans running back TyVonn Ransom said. “That angered us.”
Ransom says the energy level was too low early in games at the start of the season.
“We were really flat, and then in the second half we got into our mojo,” Ransom said. “Now we are playing four quarters.”
St. Francis has defeated a who’s who of local high school football since that Fenwick loss, knocking off Joliet Catholic, IC Catholic, St. Rita and Nazareth.
On Saturday in Wheaton, the No. 10 Spartans beat No. 11 Morgan Park 37-14 in a Class 5A quarterfinal. The Mustangs were the last Public League team alive in the state playoffs.
Milivojevic picked apart Morgan Park (10-2) with short passes and ran for two scores. One was a physical 13-yard blast in which he broke multiple tackles.
The 6-3, 215-pound senior was 18-for-25 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Milivojevic has had much bigger stat lines this season, but it was an impressive effort against Morgan Park’s tall, fast secondary.
“They can play man a lot, but when the line gave me time, our receivers were getting open, and they did a great job,” Milivojevic said. “I was just hitting the windows.”
Milivojevic connected with Ian Willis for the first touchdown, then Ransom ripped off a 35-yard run up the middle to put the Spartans (10-2) ahead 13-0 in the first quarter.
“I’ve worked on being patient a lot,” Ransom said. “I went up the middle and saw nothing but blue Smurf turf.”
Morgan Park pulled within 13-8 on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Thaxton to Chris Durr late in the third quarter, but that was as close as it would get.
Ransom had 26 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. Willis caught five passes for 31 yards and a touchdown, and Zachary Washington had four receptions for 54 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown.
The Spartans will be on the road to face the Nazareth-Carmel winner in the semifinals next weekend.
Morgan Park opened the season with state-championship dreams. Breakout star Tysean Griffin, an Illinois recruit, played as a cornerback against St. Francis but didn’t feature on offense at all. He has been limited by an injury for most of the season. His absence eliminated the Mustangs’ greatest threat.
“Our plan was basically to stop Chris Durr,” defensive back Asher Boose said. “He’s explosive, and we focused on him. We were watching to see if Griffin played offense, but we ended up not having to worry about that.”
Durr, a Wyoming recruit, had six catches for 92 yards and a TD. Thaxton was 10-for-20 for 138 yards and two TDs with two interceptions.