Photo by Jeff Vorva
Branden Houston had 10 catches and two touchdowns for Brother Rice, who lost in a shootout to Loyola on Friday night in a battle for the Catholic League Blue title.
There were no tears, no anguished cries, really no need for Brian Badke to say what the Brother Rice football players kneeling around him were clearly thinking.
“We just gave them a gift in October,” the coach said. “We’re going to take it back in November.”
He spoke a bit more, then crouched to meet the Crusaders’ gaze.
“Eyes on me,” he said. “You will be champions.”
It will have to be a Class 8A state championship now. The Catholic League Blue title went Friday to defending 8A champ Loyola, which captured a titanic tussle between unbeaten squads, 48-37, in Mt. Greenwood.
The Ramblers (9-0, 4-0) won for the 26th straight time and sewed up a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Brother Rice (8-1, 3-1) slipped to a No.8 seed and will host Fremd. Brother Rice and Loyola could face each other in the quarterfinals.
“We know Part 2 is coming soon,” Crusaders wide receiver Ricky Smalling (12 catches, 121 yards) said. “We know what we have to do and what we have to work on. We’re going to be so much better in the playoffs.”
Both teams were plenty good in the regular season finale.
The lead changed hands nine times, the last when the Ramblers’ all but unstoppable tight end/wildcat quarterback, Duke recruit Jake Marwede, scored the fourth of his five touchdowns with 9:15 to play. He capped the scoring, and a 13-carry, 87-yard day, with a four-yard rumble with 2:15 left.
The former score came two snaps after Loyola gained 33 yards on a fourth-and-six from the Rice 43 with pass off a fake punt. The latter after the Ramblers took over on the Crusaders’ 37 following a fumbled punt snap.
Rice also had an extra point attempt blocked in the second quarter, ending a streak of 101 such kicks made by John Richardson over two seasons.
“Special teams have always been our strength,” Badke said. “They hurt us tonight.”
So did turnovers, of which Rice had three. The first came with less than a minute left in the first half, after a Loyola fumble forced by Michael Butler-Kindle and recovered by Iben King gave the Crusaders, leading 23-14, the ball at their own 31.
Rather than taking that edge to the locker room, Rice tried to add to it. After being sacked on first down, quarterback Dino Borrelli (28-of-42, 407 yards, 3 TD) was hit again, fumbling away to the Ramblers, who scored one second before the half to cut the edge to 23-21.
Asked if he considered taking a knee, Badke said, “I never have. I probably should have in that situation.”
Branden Houston, who had touchdown catches of 46 and 37 yards among his 10 grabs for 213, led Rice’s offensive fireworks. Patrick Murphy (2 receptions, 42 yards) added a 33-yard touchdown catch while Wyoming recruit Xazavian Valladay (14 carries, 50 yards) had touchdown runs of seven and 27 yards.
Ramblers quarterback Tommy Herion was 17-of-32 for 205 yards. After Loyola’s starting tailback, Hamid Bullie, went down with a knee injury on his third carry of the day, Kyle Rock, who typically starts the Ramblers’ home games, stepped up for 110 yards, including a 20-yard score, on 17 carries.
The Crusaders got dinged up as well, notably the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Brian Olsen, who returned from a neck injury suffered on the opening play of the second half and was limping noticeably in the postgame handshake line.
“It was tough, they’re a physical team,” Olsen said. “But it’s the second season now. We’re 0-0. We’ll see them in the quarterfinals."