NEW LENOX | Down 21-0 and riding a three-game losing streak into the conference leader's home field, Thornton's Wildcats probably should have been deflated at halftime of their visit Friday to Lincoln-Way West.
Tifonte Hunt insisted otherwise.
"We were up," he said. "I told everybody I was going to make a big play."
The senior wideout made two, but his 50- and 89-yard third-quarter touchdown receptions weren't enough to bring Thornton all the way back in what was ultimately a 35-20 loss to the Warriors.
With the win, West (7-1, 6-0) sewed up at least a share of the SouthWest Suburban Red conference. Thornton (3-5, 2-4) officially failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and just the third time in the last 16 seasons.
"We had our chances," Thornton coach Bill Mosel said. "We battled. We had a couple of shots but just came up short."
After Hunt's 89-yarder and Christian Garcia's extra point brought Thornton within 21-14 at the 1:57 mark of the third quarter, West coughed up the ensuing kick, and the Wildcats' Michael Fuller returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. Garcia's attempt for the tie missed.
After West pushed the lead to 28-20 on a 33-yard run by Javier Montalvo (32 carries, 274 yards, three touchdowns), Thornton marched to the Warriors' 10-yard line. On third and goal from the 14, quarterback Ja Wohn Brown (16-of-26, 289 yards) under-threw a wide-open Jauan Wesley (six receptions, 54 yards) at the goal line. He was intercepted on fourth down.
A Montalvo 79-yard run set up West's final score on a 12-yard run by Adam Knerr. In the last two weeks, Montalvo has run for 498 yards and eight scores.
"He's a good back," Mosel said. "But I'm proud of my kids and the way they battled."
Though it took Montalvo three carries to get into plus yardage for the evening, he warmed up quickly thereafter. On his eighth carry of the night and the first play of the second quarter, Montalvo went 19 yards for the Warriors' first score.
After forcing Thornton into its fourth straight punt, the Warriors marched 73 yards in eight plays to another score. Montalvo's 21-yard run set up a 21-yard scoring pass from Justin Keuch to Jake Robbins.
West got the ball back with 5:20 to play in the half and again marched on the Wildcats. The Warriors covered 65 yards in 14 plays with Montalvo bulling over from three yards out 23.3 seconds before intermission.
Montalvo finished with 94 yards on 17 carries in the half, while Keuch completed 10-of-14 passes for 104 yards. By contrast, Thornton managed 50 total yards in the half, split evenly between the ground and the air.
Thornton last missed the playoffs in 2009, the year Lincoln-Way West opened. Since then, the SouthWest Suburban Red championship has been owned, at least in part, by either the Wildcats or the Warriors.
"We had a roller-coaster season," Hunt said. "But the guys never hung their heads."