John Rhode's Montini debut was shelved for five weeks with a fractured thumb. What's another half?
Early returns suggest he's worth the wait.
The transfer from Marian Catholic, inserted at quarterback to start the second half, completed 11 of 14 passes for 134 yards and 3 touchowns in Montini's 33-14 win over St. Francis Friday in Lombard.
"It was tough I got real cold and had to go inside at halftime and start throwing again. It's better than nothing, though," Rhode said. "I practiced pretty well this week. We all did."
In the seventh matchup between the two Suburban Christian Conference Blue rivals over the last four years, Rhode and the Montini offense answered St. Francis when it mattered most.
St. Francis (4-2, 1-2) pulled to within 20-14 with 8:03 left in the game, Jack Petrando's 2-yard touchdown run capping a 15-play, 98-yard march.
It took Montini five plays to match it. Rhode's 23-yard touchdown pass across the middle to Joey Borsellino pushed the margin back to 27-14. The cherry on the sundae came on Montini's next possession, Rhode lofting a 22-yard strike to Jordan Westerkamp. Westerkamp toe-tapped the back of the end zone to bring in his third touchdown reception.
"We had to respond," Rhode said. "Our backs were against the wall when they scored their touchdown."
Montini's win is its fourth straight over St. Francis. Petrando would love one more crack.
"This one was tough," Petrando said. "After we scored we felt like we were going to win the game."
Montini coach Chris Andriano said it was by design to ease Rhode back into the lineup. Mark Gorogianis started the game and ably completed 9 of 10 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown pass to Westerkamp as Montini (4-2, 2-1) took a 13-0 lead into halftime.
Rhode, though, is the man going forward.
"We wanted to work him in slow. He was nervous," Andriano said. "But the kids are really excited about him. He's our guy you saw him throw."
Montini's run defense was tested all night by St. Francis' pounding double wing. It bent but didn't break.
Two St. Francis 14-play drives in the first half were stalled deep inside Montini territory on fourth-down stuffs. Montini turned away a third Spartans fourth-and-short near midfield as the Broncos clung to their 27-14 lead.
"Those drives were tough there were some points when I was kind of panicking inside a little bit," admitted Montini defensive lineman Josh Rogers, also back in the lineup after missing time with a broken finger. "We just had to have the mentality to buckle down on a play and get the job done."
Petrando ran for 90 yards on 29 carries and a pair of touchdowns, and Jeff Rutkowski gained 66 yards on 13 carries.
"We had long drives," Petrando said, "we just didn't finish them."
Westerkamp caught 8 passes for 84 yards and 3 scores.