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JOLIET — St. Viator nearly made Friday the 13th lucky for itself.
The Lions, who had lost 24 consecutive games to Joliet Catholic, led the Hilltoppers 13-0 late in the first quarter.
But Joliet Catholic showed why it remains one of the class programs in the state of Illinois, rallying to keep its streak intact with a 35-20 victory Friday.
"I am really proud of our guys," said St. Viator football coach Brandon New. "We just made some mistakes that cost us. We had our chances, but we will learn from that. I am looking forward to the rest of the season."
St. Viator (2-1, 0-1) refused to show any fear against a Joliet Catholic team that outweighed the Lions on both sides of the line by 25 pounds.
"We knew what we had to do," said defensive linemen Zack Niro. "They were bigger than we were. But we were quicker and that helped us make some plays."
One of those plays came on special teams when Brian Peters returned a punt 40 yards to the Joliet Catholic 27.
Four plays later, Bobby Calmeyn hooked up with Ben Dickey on a 4-yard touchdown pass.
A 2-point conversion run failed but the Lions led 6-0.
The Lions were almost in position to double that lead just moments later following a fumble recovery by Peters at the Hilltopper 39.
On the next play, the Lions went into the trick bag with a double-pass ending with a catch by Michael Piet at the Joiliet Catholic 8.
But the official called the Lions for holding, negating the opportunity.
The defense, led by Niro, Peters, Luke Fulton, Tommy Madaras, Luke Fulton, Tom Gorman, Jordan DeGregier and Ben Dickey, kept Joliet Catholic's attack in check and forced another turnover. Dickey intercepted a pass a returned it 67 yards for a touchdown — but the play was negated by a penalty, forcing the Lions to take over at the JCA 41.
From there, Calmeyn connected on the second play with Matt Darling (8 receptions, 151 yards).
Darling hauled in a deep-crossing pattern and turned it into a 41-yard touchdown to send the Viator sideline into a frenzy with a 13-0 lead with 1:56 left in the first quarter.
But Joliet Catholic began to find its offense from there.
With the Lions keying on Mike Invlow, who had rushed for over 500 yards in his first two games, JCA turned to running back Nick Borgra.
"We knew we had to stop Ivlow," New said. "They just have so many weapons."
Borgra, who finished with 253 yards on 24 carries, rallied the Hilltoppers to 2 quick touchdowns.
He scored on a 33-yard run and a 3-yard run as JCA took a 14-13 lead with 8:05 left in the first half.
The Lions regained the lead on a fabulous catch and run by Darling. After catching the ball on a bubble screen from Calmeyn, Darling picked up some blockers and ran down the far sideline. He then cut back against the grain to score on a 35-yard play to put the Lions up 20-14 with 3:00 left in the half.
"I just got some great blocking along the way," Darling said. "I just saw our guys and followed them."
Joliet Catholic then came up with a drive that would set the tone for the rest of the game.
Starting at their own 11, the Hilltoppers went the distance, converting two passes along the way to bail them out.
Ivlow, who finished with 173 yards on 32 carries, scored on a 9-yard run with 13 seconds left in the half to give JCA a 21-20 lead.
"That really changed the momentum," New said. "It gave them some confidence in the second half.
With that confidence, JCA took the second-half kickoff and marched 61 yards in 7 plays. Borgra scored his third touchdown on the day with a 5-yard run.
After a defensive stop by the Hilltoppers, they began to play keep away with the football.
JCA began to pound away with Ivlow and Borgra.
But just as the Hilltoppers were getting close to a clinching touchdown, the defense would force a turnover.
First, it was a fumble recovery by Niro that stopped one drive.
The other was an interception and a 54-yard return by Fulton that took the ball to the JCA 27 early in the fourth quarter.
The Lions drove the ball to the 13, but on fourth down, Calmeyn, who was 22-of-36 for 241 yards, threw his third interception of the game.
"I made some mistakes and that was one me," Calmeyn said. "We played well enough to win."
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