As the team switched its focus to the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference (CCL/ESCC) playoffs following a first-round exit in the state playoffs, St. Laurence junior running back Nate Thomas and his teammates knew what needed to be done.

The loss to Hillcrest taught the Vikings well: they needed to run, run and run some more.

With Thomas leading the way with 225 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, host St. Laurence claimed a 28-0 victory on Nov. 22 over De La Salle in the CCL/ESCC championship game.

“After that Hillcrest game, we felt like we needed to get back to how we really play and really pound it, pound it, pound it right down teams’ throats,” Thomas said. “Today, we did that, and it showed.”

St. Laurence (7-5) will host Simeon, 30-16 winners over Morgan Park, in the Prep Bowl on Nov. 29 at 1 p.m. It is the Vikings’ first appearance in the Prep Bowl since 1978.

After losing to Hillcrest in the Class 5A state playoffs, St. Laurence defeated St. Patrick to advance to the CCL/ESCC championship game.

For Thomas and his teammates, it was a tough turn, but they were going to make the best of the opportunity.

“I’m not going to lie. You feel down because you’re not in the place you feel like you should, the state playoffs,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day, we’re coming into practice with the same focus we did in the regular season and playoffs. We want to win it.”

Thomas scored on runs of 4, 53 and 69 yards behind his offensive line of Marc McCoy, Luke Baldwin, Robert Srebalus, Damaurius Stewart and Jimmy Moore (St. Cajetan).

His 4-yard run through the De La Salle defense at the 5:08 mark in the third quarter extended St. Laurence’s lead to 14-0.

The Vikings went up late in the second quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Darius Wilson to Brailyn Johnson, who caught the ball and weaved through the defense for the opening score.

Wilson finished with 56 passing yards and 62 rushing yards. He is also a key guard/forward on the basketball team, but with the hoops season starting Nov. 25, Wilson will be a week late in joining the team.

“I’ve been working on basketball, too, but with football, we had to get to the Prep Bowl and get that ring,” Wilson said. “We just had to execute.”

St. Laurence defeated De La Salle 43-0 in Week 9 to clinch a state playoff spot.

On defense, Myron Lewis (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery), Sean Harrison (8 tackles) and Sean Burns (7 tackles) led the way. Burns added a fumble recovery late in the third quarter with De La Salle driving into the St. Laurence red zone.

“Our coaches always talk about that one play that can change a game,” Burns said. “You never know what it will be. That was in my head the entire game. No matter how much you’re up, that play is going to come. I saw the ball pop out, and I fell on it.”

Aaron Wofford broke up a long pass play in the second quarter that would have been a touchdown for De La Salle. Lewis added a fumble recovery later in the quarter. Wofford and Brandon Wilson also played tight coverage on a big Meteors throw downfield when the Vikings were up 14-0 in the fourth.

Leading the effort from De La Salle (5-7) were senior Mike Passarelli (41 rushing yards) and junior Jason Moore (36 rushing yards, 30 passing yards)

Burns said the Vikings remained on task.

“We just kept going forward as a defense,” Burns said. “It was always, ‘Don’t take them lightly,’ even though we beat them 43-0 before. We had to keep our heads up, our shoulder pads down and keep steam-rolling them.”