The toughest task on a Friday night when as many as six -- that's right, six -- teams could have ended the regular season claiming a share of the East Suburban Catholic Conference title, fell to Benet.
League-leading Joliet Catholic, with memories of the Redwings taking their ESCC title away last season still playing in their minds, were having none of the six-way champion talk as they rolled into Lisle and posted a 36-0 victory to claim an undisputed league championship.
"Them storming the field last year, that sticks with you for a while," said Hilltoppers coach Dan Sharp. "Winning conference is always our No. 1 goal because of how difficult our conference is."
The difference was the dominating performance by the Hilltoppers defense, which not only blanked a team averaging 31 points a game but also held the Redwings (6-3, 3-3) to 6 yards rushing and 86 yards total while forcing five turnovers and blocking a punt that turned into a safety.
"It all starts with Jake Jaworski and our defensive staff, the team's preparation and the kids executed perfectly tonight; we couldn't have played a batter game," Sharp said. "Our pass rush was excellent, our tackling was excellent and our coverage was excellent."
All of them needed to be as the Hilltoppers (8-1, 5-1) were up against Benet's highly regarded quarterback Jack Beneventi. But the junior was under pressure -- and sacked three times alone in the first half by Xavier Hernandez -- most of the night, and while he completed 17 of 25 throws, they only went for 80 yards with two of his tosses intercepted.
"They took away our running game and we had to rely on the pass, and it just wasn't clicking tonight," said Benet coach Pat New.
While Sharp was ecstatic at the performance of his defense, his offense left him disappointed in the first half. The Hilltoppers managed only one touchdown, a 10-yard Michael Ivlow run early in the second quarter, while two drives inside the Benet 10 netted nothing more than a pair of 22-yard field goals by Brian Bravo, which, coupled with the safety, resulted in a 15-0 lead.
In the third quarter, though, everything came together for the Hilltoppers. They drove 80 yards in 8 plays to start the second half, with Ivlow scoring from 20 yards out, and after Benet fumbled away the subsequent kickoff at its own 26, Ivlow capped the short march with an 11-yard sweep for a 29-0 lead before the Redwings had run a play in the second half. The final score came with six minutes left when Nick Borgra barged in from the 2-yard line.
While both teams now prepare for the playoffs, the Redwings enter the postseason on a three-game losing streak, including a cumulative 85-21 deficit over the last two weeks in games they turned the ball over a combined 12 times.
"I'm just trying to stay positive, to be a leader," Beneventi said. "It's hard to pinpoint what's been going on the last three games. We just have to prove to ourselves that we can bounce back."