The moment that stuck with Conrad Miller came early in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Class 4A state championship game, just after Richmond-Burton running back Nick Legnaioli raced 63 yards for a touchdown.
After Legnaioli added the extra point, Miller, a senior offensive lineman, jogged to the sideline with his teammates.
“I realized when I came off and said, ‘I think that’s my last time I’m going to be on the field,’ ” Miller said. “It kind of hit hard. I told some guys, and they were like, ‘Yeah, that’s our last time playing.’ The second-team offense was in. We started hugging, there were a couple tears. It was really emotional.”
But what a way to go out.
R-B, as it had 12 other times during the season, dominated its opponent, handing Murphysboro a 50-14 loss in the state title game to complete the first 14-0 season in program history.
The Rockets and their fans celebrated Sunday with a parade, followed by a celebration at the high school. The players, wearing the maroon jerseys from the championship game, each had their name announced and picked up their state medals from athletic director Kristi Martin.
Only IC Catholic, a back-to-back-to-back state champion, pushed the Rockets a full four quarters. R-B scored late in that quarterfinal game for a 24-14 victory, although the Rockets’ defense had things in control even with a three-point lead.
R-B outscored its opponents, 562-94, and had six shutouts.
The state championship game had no drama at all. R-B led, 17-0, at halftime, then blew the game open in the third quarter. Legnaioli took the second-half kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, and the rout was on.
“After Nick returned the kickoff at halftime, I remember thinking, ‘We got this, as long as we finish,’ ” senior wide receiver-defensive back Logan Hutson said. “It still feels like a dream. I’ve always wanted this since I was a little kid. I still can’t believe it. It’s crazy.”
Junior quarterback Jacob Huber said his favorite part of Friday was in the locker room after the game.
“I tried to sit there and take it all in,” Huber said. “The huge stands, a bunch of fans, unbelievable. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was little and watched [R-B] on TV in 2011. It’s surreal to play here and be on such an amazing team with a great group of seniors and an awesome coaching staff.”
R-B took Mike Noll to his first semifinal after 29 years as a head coach last season. Noll’s first state championship in his Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame career was R-B’s second in school history. The Rockets won the Class 2A title in 1992.
Noll thanked everyone from the administration to parents to his staff and players. He talked about the players’ willingness to work hard in every aspect, about the team-bonding experiences that made them even closer teammates and about how he tried to keep the process simple by just winning each day.
“The boys played a phenomenal game in Week 13 against Coal City [a 30-0 semifinal win],” Noll said. “They were such an easy group to coach. Last year [losing to IC Catholic in the semifinal] set the tone. This year’s group chose ‘Finish’ as their slogan, and we’re 14-0 and state champions.”
The thrill still is sinking in with the players. One fan told Miller, “Two years from now, you’ll really realize what this means.”
“Eight teams this year got to experience that feeling, and we’re one of those teams,” Miller said.