The wait is over for the Proviso East Pirates, as they secured an IHSA state playoff spot for the first time in 20 years with a win over rival Proviso West.

The Pirates (6-2, 5-2) came out on top over the Proviso West Panthers, 14-8, Friday night at Proviso East. With the score knotted at 8 with 2:04 left to play in the third quarter, sophomore quarterback Nashon Johnson connected with senior Devin Lee on an 11-yard touchdown pass to the right corner of the endzone to give the Pirates the winning score and secure their playoff berth.

“It means a lot to us,” said senior running back Kenyatta Walker. “It shows that if we do what our coaches put in place and put in the hard work, we can do anything.”

Walker tallied 220 yards on 15 carries with a five-yard touchdown run to the left with 1:07 to play in the half to put his team up 8-0. Johnson finished the night with 120 passing yards, while Lee finished with 50 all-purpose yards and five tackles. The defense put up a stellar effort, as senior linebacker Justin Harris notched a safety early to start the scoring for the Pirates to go along with a sack, and senior Jamion Williams had four sacks.

 “We have hitters at every position,” Walker said. “It’s not about stopping one player, we used all that talk as motivation to come in and do what people said we’d have a hard time doing.”

For the Panthers (0-8, 0-7), junior running back Brandon Smith stood out on offense, as he put his team on the board with a 70-yard run to the left with 11:45 to go in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Kyshun Robinson then connected with Smith on a pass up the middle for the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 8.

“We came out and knew we had to come up with something spectacular,” Smith said. “We knew we could pull off that reverse play and it took off from there.”

Proviso East had lost the last 11 meetings between these two teams, which made the victory that much more special.

“It was a big game to me,” Walker said. “Not only because of senior night, but because of the history of Proviso East and Proviso West. Full stands on both sides, the crowd motivated us. For me to come in and be a part of the team that could win this rivalry game was a big opportunity and I’m thankful for it.”

“It’s an exciting time for Proviso East,” said Pirates head coach Oliver Speller. “We’re so excited and there’s so much going on. So many families involved trying to bring back the pride of this school, and we’re overjoyed right now.”

The Panthers kept things close throughout the game, playing with a sense of urgency in the rivalry game, and Smith knows that his team can build from the positives that came out of a close one against a solid Pirate team.

“It’s late in the season, but we finally came together,” Smith said. “This loss was a mental win.”

Walker said his Pirates team can carry what they did Friday night into the end of the season and playoffs because everyone is focused on what’s to come.

“When everyone is locked in with the same goal, it’s hard to beat us.”

Proviso East will finish up the regular season against Willowbrook (7-1) on the road next Friday at 7:30. 

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