Photo by Jeff Vorva
Receiver Ricky Smalling (left) jukes a defender from Bartlett in Brother Rice's first-round playoff victory Friday night.
At the conclusion of his team’s 49-21 win over Bartlett in the first round of the Class 8A football playoffs, Brother Rice quarterback Cam Miller was asked what it was like to have a day like the one he’d just had.
“Well,” he said, “it’s my birthday, so it started off pretty good.”
And ended quickly.
The Crusaders held the ball for all of seven minutes, 53 seconds in the first half Friday. It was enough to run 29 plays and score seven touchdowns in seven possessions, giving the fifth-seeded hosts a 49-0 lead over No. 28 Bartlett, not to mention a school record for points in a half.
Also before intermission, the newly 18-year-old Miller threw for six touchdowns — tying his own school single-game record — and set Brother Rice’s single-season mark with 29 scoring passes, breaking the standard of 26 set by Matt Page in 2012. Oh, and he completed 13 of 14 passes for 312 yards, raising his season completion percentage to 70.9 percent (202 of 285), which if Rice’s season were over would smash the old school mark of 65.5 percent.
It’s not over, though.
Rice (9-1) will host No. 12 South Elgin (9-1), a 62-10 winner Friday over Evanston, at noon Saturday in a second-round matchup.
Crusaders coach Brian Badke, in his fourth season at the helm, snapped a two-game losing streak in first-round playoff games and has his team poised to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.
“We’ll go as far as Cam takes us,” Badke said. “He works really hard at his trade. He’s a winner, a competitor.”
Wide receiver Ricky Smalling, who had five catches for 163 yards, including touchdowns of 55, 67 and 23 yards, echoed those sentiments.
“He never gives up,” Smalling said. “He’s strong-minded, very smart, he’s a very verbal leader.”
Though, thanks to Rice’s no-huddle offense, Miller said nothing to Smalling after the one incompletion he threw in the game, a bomb that glanced off a wide-open Smalling’s fingertips on Rice’s first offensive snap of the second quarter.
“I should’ve laid out for the ball,” Smalling said. “Cam might’ve overthrown me a little, but no excuses — catch everything, drop nothing.”
On the next snap, the Crusaders went back to the same play. This time, Smalling gathered the deep ball in, taking it for 67 yards and a touchdown.
“I wasn’t expecting it — I was happy they called it again,” Smalling said. “They saw an opportunity to strike, and we did.”
Smalling’s 55-yard scoring grab came on the third play of the Crusaders’ first possession. Their second drive took four snaps, ending with a seven-yard toss to Julian Blain. Possession No. 3 lasted two plays, the second a brilliant 64-yard catch and run by Blain in which he stopped twice to shake off would-be tacklers, essentially bootlegged around a third then picked up blockers down the sideline before a final cutback into the end zone.
After Smalling’s 67-yarder, Miller hit Patrick Murphy on an 18-yard fade route in the left corner of the north end zone, Clifton Taylor (11 carries, 50 yards) bulled over for a two-yard score and Smalling turned a short pass to the flat into a 23-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown dash.
Bartlett (5-5) came in averaging 46 points per game over the four-game win streak it put together after losing four of its first five games. But, against the Crusaders’ first-team defense in the first half, the Hawks managed just 106 yards while punting four times and turning the ball over on downs three.
“They out-matched us a little bit,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. “They’re a talented group. (Miller) is his conference’s (offensive) MVP — he’s very talented, very accurate. And his receivers can go get it, too.”