By Steve Millar
Brother Rice got a strong challenge from a desperate St. Rita team looking to keep its playoff hopes alive last Friday night.
The Mustangs slowed down the Crusaders offense for much of the game, but host Brother Rice produced just enough big plays to pull off a 21-14 Catholic League Blue win. The Crusaders clinched a playoff berth with the victory.
Rice (6-0, 3-0) scored on a 74-yard touchdown pass from John Bean to Dylan Summers and an 83-yard touchdown run from Bean. The two long scores gave the Crusaders a 14-0 lead early in the third quarter.
“St. Rita’s defense did a tremendous job stopping us and putting pressure on us,” Bean said. “We had to adapt to that and overcome the circumstances.
“We’re always looking for the big plays and I’m looking for my teammates to be playmakers.”
St. Rita (1-5, 0-3) got back in the game when Henry Wilson returned the kickoff following Bean’s touchdown run 92 yards for a touchdown.
The Mustangs then forced a Rice punt and appeared to be building momentum until the Crusaders’ Danny Fitzgerald intercepted a Hayden Ekern pass and returned it 22 yards to the St. Rita 22-yard line. The pick was Fitzgerald's fourth in the past three games.
That set up a 4-yard touchdown run from Jessi Plunkett to make it 21-7 with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
Plunkett, who ran for 134 yards on 22 carries, was excited to eliminate St. Rita from playoff contention.
“St. Rita’s my most disliked team,” he said. “I wanted to send them home just as much as anybody else and we did.
“It’s great when we can show teams we’re going to play more physical than them and just run the ball down their throats. That’s a big part of our offense.”
Brother Rice ran for 293 yards in all, with Bean adding 159 on 18 carries.
The Crusaders came up with another big defensive play with under two minutes left in the third quarter. St. Rita drove down to the Brother Rice 12-yard line before linebacker Jack McMahon came up with an interception.
“They were kind of picking on me, so I had to step up and make a play,” McMahon said of his second interception of the season. “I got a good drop back and our D-line got good pressure on. I was just in the right place at the right time.
“At halftime, we set a goal for three turnovers. We only got two, but we came away with the ‘W’ so we’re happy with that.”
St. Rita pulled within 21-14 on Kempton Shine’s 10-yard touchdown run with 4:38 left.
The Mustangs had a chance to force a three-and-out and get the ball back. On third-and-9 from the Crusaders’ 20, however, Bean hit Jahlil Pettis for a 23-yard gain, with Pettis making a great catch along the sideline.
Rice was then able to run the clock out.
“We rep that play in practice all the time and I trusted him to go up and make that play,” Bean said. “I trusted my offensive line to give me time to make the throw.”
Ekern completed 18 of 33 passes for 128 yards for St. Rita.
“We haven’t played clean football all year long,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “We did a lot of good things, but unfortunately we had too many mistakes. We gave up the two big plays, we had interceptions, a blocked field goal.
“We were right there. We had them on their heels and we let them off.”