When Willowbrook scored first in Friday's first-round Class 7A playoff game and trailed by just a point at halftime, the Warriors could believe an upset of Chicago Catholic League powerhouse St. Rita was within reach.
When St. Rita put up 17 fourth-quarter points, however, the 34-6 final score looked deceptively like a blowout victory for the host Mustangs (9-1).
"It wasn't pretty by any standpoint with us, but it was a good football game," St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. "I was proud of our guys fighting through adversity. We had the ball on the ground a lot (4 fumbles), which is not like us."
Sixth-seeded Willowbrook (7-3) took a 6-0 lead with 7:54 to go in the second quarter when quarterback Brian Johnson found Hayden Adams in the right corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass. The extra-point attempt failed.
"We knew we had to maintain it," Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth said. "That was the biggest thing. We couldn't be satisfied with that, and I don't think we were. But at the same time we didn't execute like we needed to."
No. 3 St. Rita countered quickly, marching downfield and taking a 7-6 lead on a 3-yard run by quarterback Tommy Mister. That's where it stood at halftime.
A 23-yard field goal by John Kelly and a 35-yard Mister scoring run gave St. Rita a 17-6 lead going into the third quarter, and it was 20-6 after Kelly hit a 27-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth.
Mister added a 1-yard TD run, and after a couple of sacks pinned Willowbrook deep in its own end of the field, St. Rita blocked a punt and Matthew Mitchell returned it 2 yards for the game's final TD.
"We put ourselves in bad spots going into the second half," Hildreth said. "We had opportunities to score as well in the first half and we had big (dropped passes), misses in spots, never really could get the run game going. Ultimately it hurt us. We gave them too many opportunities and too many short fields, and they're too good for us to put them in those spots. We did OK hold them to field goals here and there to keep it within reach, but we never could get over the hump."
"Defensively, I thought our guys played great," Kuska said. "That's a pretty good offense over there that puts up a lot of points, and our guys limited them. We turned it over, gave them a short field, that's on the offense. The defense I thought played extremely well."
St. Rita will meet rival Mt. Carmel next weekend in Round 2.
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