By Jason Maholy
Brother Rice coach Brian Badke knew there would be some bumps in the road for his young, first-year starting quarterback.
Ben Somers, the junior signal-caller who had performed so well while helping the Crusaders to wins in their first two games this season, got his first bitter taste of adversity in a tough Week 3 loss to Providence. The Celtics intercepted Somers three times – including a pick-six – and escaped from Mount Greenwood with a 34-22 win on Sept. 13.
Somers’ rough second half might be something he’d like to forget, but Badke would prefer he remember – at least long enough to learn and grow from the experience.
Somers doesn’t have to look too far into the past to find evidence of a Brother Rice junior quarterback struggling, then turning those difficult moments into success. Former Crusaders’ quarterback John Bean had a rough junior season – his first under center – in 2017 as Rice went 2-7; however, he grew into one of the state’s top QBs a season later and led Rice to the 2018 Class 8A state championship game.
“We knew it was going to be tough and it was very good learning experience for Ben,” Badke said. “It was his third start and we played a very good football team that’s very good defensively. He’s had a great run and he’s going to continue to lead our offense, and he’ll improve.
“We’re going to look at the tape, kick ourselves, learn from it and move on.”
The game was until the final minutes never out of reach for the Crusaders, thanks to a strong defensive effort and the playmaking ability of running back Wille Shaw. Down 14-2 in the first half, Shaw took a short pass from Somers and galloped 75 yards for a touchdown.
Providence senior defensive back Kevin Countryman extended the Celtics’ lead to 21-9 midway through the third quarter when he returned an interception 12 yards for a score, but Shaw wasted no time getting Rice back into the game. On the first play of the ensuing possession, the 6-foot, 185-pound junior took a handoff 78 yards down the right sideline for his second touchdown of the night. The point after made it 21-16.
Badke was uncertain heading into the season what the Crusaders had in Shaw, who is in his first varsity season. There is no more uncertainty.
“We know Willie Shaw can play,” he said. “He’s very explosive and he’s a guy we’ve got to get the football to.
“Credit our O-line, too, they played well against a tough defensive front. So there’s some really good things we’re going to get from this game.”
Somers tossed a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jack DeJarld to make it 27-22, but Rice got no closer.
The Crusaders’ defense made several big stops to get the ball back in the offense’s hands, but Celtics junior quarterback Kevin Conway made some big plays of his own to keep Rice playing catch-up. Conway, who missed all of the 2018 season, threw for 175 yards and a touchdown and ran for three more scores. He scored from 1 yard out with 2:16 left in the game to all but clinch the victory.
“He’s a heck of a football player,” Badke said of Conway. “He made some plays and we can’t allow the quarterback to make plays like that. We missed some tackles and they made some plays, and we made some mistakes and they capitalized on them.
“We’ll bounce back, and we will become a better football team for it.”