RedHawks’ prevention crew shuts down Raiders
When it mattered most, Marist got defensive.
The defending the RedHawks did on Friday night in Bolingbrook didn’t involve words, but deeds. Seemingly susceptible to high-powered offenses — a suspicion given credence by the ground-gaining exploits of a few East Suburban Catholic Conference foes during the regular season — Marist’s defense suddenly grew sharp teeth when faced with its most important test to date.
Scoring points wasn’t supposed to be much of a problem for the host Raiders, but it was. Bolingbrook managed just one touchdown versus the RedHawks, and that score was a bit fortunate as it required the Raiders to recover their own fumble in Marist’s end zone.
But that was it, and even with Bolingbrook’s defense holding the visitors well below their per-game average in points, the RedHawks possessed enough punch to notch a 21-7 upset and move on to the Class 8A quarterfinals.
Marist (8-3), which hadn’t gotten past the tournament’s opening round since 2009, will square off with Oswego Saturday night in Mount Greenwood. The Panthers defeated Waubonsie Valley 33-13 in Round 2.
“They were flying around and they’ve gotten better each week,” RedHawks coach Pat Dunne said of his prevention corps, which held the Raiders to three second-half first downs and 177 offensive yards overall.
“We’re very proud of our guys. The defense has been playing great, and all night long they came up with big stops and big turnovers. They went out there with their hearts and did a great job of playing to the whistle on every play.”
As has become customary over the past several weeks, Nic Weishar stepped forward in a measurable on Marist’s defensive behalf. The Notre Dame-bound receiver registered a dozen tackles and one sack, but most important was his fourth-period fumble return.
Teammate Ryan Mishka had knocked the ball loose from a Bolingbrook player’s grasp and it popped up into Weishar’s hands. From there, Weishar took it 32 yards into the Raiders’ end zone for a go-ahead score.
The defensive TD was Weishar’s third since he became a regular on that side of the ball in Week 8 against Benet Academy.
“Nic’s been a tremendous leader with the turnovers,” Dunne said. “The momentum has certainly turned [in our favor] since the Benet game, and every one of those [defensive] guys is contributing.”
Weishar’s fumble recovery was one of three big plays Marist delivered in the second half that proved stifling to Bolingbrook. The preceding offensive series had also ended unhappily for the Raiders, whose field-goal attempt was blocked by RedHawks junior Jawill Aldridge.
On the heels of a good kickoff return, Bolingbrook had advanced all the way down to Marist’s 15-yard line before getting pushed backwards by a chop-block penalty. The hosts tried for three points after that.
Also derailing the home team was the possession that followed Weishar’s touchdown. Mishka interrupted that one with an interception on the Raiders’ side of the field, and the RedHawks eventually capitalized on Peter Andreotti’s 1-yard scoring run.
Marist’s first TD was generated on its initial series of the evening, with quarterback Jack Donegan doing the honors on a 4-yard keeper. The RedHawks squandered a chance to add to their point total one possession later when a drive stalled at the Bolingbrook 18, but Dunne still liked what he saw from his offense in the early going.
“We believed time of possession and field position was going to be a big thing for us,” he said. “It was important to keep sticking to the game plan. We believe in these guys, and they went out and executed.”
Marist’s 7-0 lead held up until just before halftime. The Raiders were on the verge of coming up dry after journeying deep into RedHawks territory, as receiver Neo Armstrong lost his grip on the ball at the visitors’ 4.
However, Parrker Westphal alertly pounced on it in the Marist end zone to pull Bolingbrook even at the break. But whatever emotional thrust the Raiders might have gained from that fortuitous happening was gradually extinguished as the second half wore on.
Weishar and Mishka (seven tackles) weren’t the RedHawks’ only difference-makers on the defensive side. Also having an impact were Marcus Pitts (13 tackles, including two for loss), Marco Weidman (13 tackles), Isaiah Bickhem (nine tackles, including two for loss, one sack) and David Nelson (nine tackles).
“Our guys have faced adversity this season, but I think the schedule has really helped us,” Dunne said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games [before this], and we treat every play as the most critical play.”
Along with his defensive heroics, Weishar chipped in five catches and 57 yards to the Marist attack. Flynn Nagel had six receptions for 51 yards and rushed for 19 more, and both Aldridge and Andreotti amassed 50 yards on the ground. Donegan completed 14 of his 22 passes for 135 yards.
True to form, Dunne didn’t want to bask very long in this latest bit of RedHawks glory.
“It was great on Friday night, but we’re on to Oswego,” he said. “Everyone this time of year is a great team, and Oswego is on a nine-game winning streak. We’re glad [the game’s] at home, but it comes down to execution.
“On our end, I’m proud of them as a team, but we’ve got a lot of improvement we can still make. We have to learn from the [Bolingbrook] game and just keep getting better.”
Marist 7 0 0 14 - 21
Bolingbrook 0 7 0 0 - 7
First downs 15
Yds. rushing 130
Yds. passing 135
Total yds. 265
Had intercepted 1
MA — Jack Donegan, 4-yd. run (Cillian Hannon kick)
BB — Parrker Westphal, fumble recovery in Marist end zone (Alan Klein kick)
MA — Nic Weishar, 32-yd. fumble return (Hannon kick)
MA — Peter Andreotti, 1-yd. run (Hannon kick)
Marist Rushing: Andreotti 20-50, Aldridge 8-50, Nagel 4-19, Donegan 6-11. Passing: Donegan 22-14-135. Receiving: Nagel 6-51, Weishar 5-57, Ferguson 3-27.