Crusaders fall to Friars in final seconds
Like objects of a prom queen’s scorn, Brother Rice has experienced plenty of heartbreak during the 2013 football season.
One last bout of it was delivered to the Crusaders Saturday afternoon at Joe Johnston Field. Seeing its first action in three weeks by hosting Fenwick in a Chicago Catholic League semifinal playoff game, Rice was more rested than rusty as it jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead.
But then an old bugaboo cropped up, and three second-half turnovers proved too much to overcome.
The Friars used the last of those to set up a 34-yard Michael Cahill field goal, which was booted with four seconds left in regulation. By virtue of the successful kick, Fenwick defeated the Crusaders 24-21 and moved on to face St. Rita, a victor over De La Salle in the other semifinal, this weekend.
The winner of the Catholic League final will appear in the Prep Bowl at Solider Field the Friday after Thanksgiving. Opposing it will be the champion of the Chicago Public League.
As for Rice (3-7), the narrow setback was merely the latest in a long line of them this fall. Six of the Crusaders’ losses came by a total of just 49 points. One of those was an eight-point defeat against the Friars during the regular schedule.
“It is what it is,” Rice coach Brian Badke said. “It’s frustrating, but we just didn’t get it done. We’re just not finishing [well].”
Badke elevated a total of 35 players from the Crusaders’ two lower-level squads to the varsity prior to the contest, and one of those newcomers — freshman Ricky Smalling — caught a 45-yard scoring pass from Alex Alarcon that handed Rice a 21-14 advantage late in the third quarter.
“We did a scrimmage the week before and probably had our two best weeks of practice,” Badke said. “It was nice to be in the Prep Bowl playoffs as far as getting extra practices in and bringing young guys up. Both [lower-level] teams were coming off conference titles, so they gave us some energy and I felt good going in [to the game].”
There was no reason for Badke to feel any worse, either, through the contest’s first 24 minutes. Marcus Jones’ 2-yard run and Alarcon’s 11-yard bootleg staked the Crusaders to a 14-0 lead in the second period, and Rice’s defense did the rest.
Michael McGinley (five solo tackles, one assist), Greg Bernier (four solos, two assists, two pass breakups, one interception), Julian Davis (four solos, two assists) and Jordan Boyd (four solos) were the Crusaders’ ringleaders on that side of the ball. Bobby Sullivan picked off another Gino Cavalieri pass.
But Cavalieri also found one of his intended targets, Northern Illinois University-bound tight end Ryan Smith, with an 8-yard scoring toss in the third quarter. That touchdown and a game-tying 10-yard dash by Michael Hanrahan both came on fourth-down plays and followed Rice miscues that occurred while the hosts had a strong wind at their backs.
“That was our Achilles heel all year — they killed us,” Badke said of the turnovers. “We have to do a much better job of holding onto the football. That starts with the head coach.
“We didn’t turn the ball over in the first half and it’s 14-0 [in our favor]. Fenwick scored 17 points off turnovers — without them, we win.”
After Smalling’s TD catch regained the lead for the Crusaders, they maintained it until the waning moments of regulation. Fenwick finally pulled even a second time on Charlie Emmons’ 6-yard run with just over a minute remaining, but Rice — which was armed with three timeouts — began driving again once it got the ball back.
However, miscommunication on a pass play resulted in an interception, which gave the Friars possession around midfield and set the table for Cahill’s deciding three-pointer.
“We’re competitive and we’re not that far away [from being equal to premier programs], but we have to do a few things to get over the top,” Badke said. “We really need to focus on little things, [like] fundamentals and leadership. We’ve got to have a great offseason.”
That being said, Badke did not express disappointment about anything other than the sub-par ledger — and even that unhappiness was not for the reason one might think.
“The record didn’t show what we were about,” he said. “The kids always gave us their best effort, which is all you can ask for.
“Brother Rice has been around a long time and has a good tradition, and I hope the kids use that as motivation to prepare for next season.”
Jones and Alarcon finished with 97 and 88 rushing yards, respectively, to spark the Crusaders’ offense. Alarcon spread his 11 completions among six different receivers.
Fenwick 0 0 14 10 - 24
Brother Rice 0 14 7 0 - 21
First downs 19 18
Yds. rushing 40 187
Yds. passing 359 110
Total yds. 399 297
Att./comp. 40-19 27-11
Fumbles lost 0 1
Had intercepted 2 2
Penalties/yds. 4-40 8-65
Punts/avg. 6-23.7 3-36.7
BR — Marcus Jones, 2-yd. run (Steve Scott kick)
BR — Alex Alarcon, 11-yd. run (Scott kick)
FW — Ryan Smith, 8-yd. pass from Gino Cavalieri (Michael Cahill kick)
FW — Michael Hanrahan, 10-yd. run (Cahill kick)
BR — Ricky Smalling, 45-yd. pass from Alarcon (Scott kick)
FW — Charlie Emmons, 6-yd. run (Chaill kick)
FW — Cahill, 34-yd. field goal
Brother Rice Rushing: Jones 23-97, Alarcon 15-88, Blaine 4-1, Mueller 1-1. Passing: Alarcon 27-11-10. Receiving: Smalling 2-46, Mueller 2-26, Jones 2-15, Butler 2-9, Blaine 2-5, Desmond 1-9.