Brother Rice ends Warren's season
It was always supposed to be basketball.
Zack Pelland grew up playing basketball, having dreams of great success with the Warren boys high school basketball team.
Then his uncle convinced him to go out for football during the summer before his freshman year. The Blue Devils were already a week into camp.
"I was just going into high school being a basketball player, I joined football late just to try it and it just turned my life around," Warren's big, intimidating 6-foot-4 defensive lineman said. "It's given me so many opportunities and I've met so many friends. This has just been my life, and I love it. I've never been closer to a group of guys."
No wonder Pelland, who is going to end up playing football in college next year (he's weighing offers right now), was in tears on Saturday night.
Pelland and his Warren teammates saw their dream season come to an end on Chicago's far southwest side. The Blue Devils ran up against an undefeated Brother Rice team that didn't bend much defensively and never broke. The host Crusaders handed Warren a 20-0 loss in a Class 8A quarterfinal.
With the win, Brother Rice, which was playing its ninth home game of the season, stays perfect (12-0) and will move on to face Marist (11-1) in the Class 8A semifinals next weekend.
Meanwhile, Warren, which won 10 games in a row after dropping its season opener to Barrington, ends its best season since 2001 with a 10-2 record. This appearance in the quarterfinals was just the third in program history for the Blue Devils. They also advanced this far in 1991 and 2001.
Another highlight for Warren this season was its first North Suburban Conference title since 2008. The Blue Devils won the championship outright by running the table in league play, 7-0.
"I'm really going to remember these seniors," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "They were 100 percent self-made. These kids were 4-5 when they came in as freshmen, they weren't high-flying kids, and I told them, 'Who ever thought you would win 10 games in a row (as seniors)?' They just made themselves with hard work. They worked for every single thing that they got. They've been awesome."
But the magic stopped against a Brother Rice team that dictated the flow of the game with its stingy defense.
By halftime, Warren was down 14-0 and had managed just 1 first down and 9 rushing yards. The Blue Devils had been virtually unstoppable in the run game all season behind workhorse senior running back Martin Walker Jr, who had 10 rushing yards at halftime and 34 yards on 9 carries for the game.
"They (Brother Rice) controlled the field position and we weren't able to move the football," McNulty said. "We weren't able to get Martin off the ground and they came out and just flipped the field on us."
Typically, Walker Jr. was getting well over 30 attempts and almost always finishing with more than 100 rushing yards a game this season. He was the centerpiece of the Warren offense. But Brother Rice snuffed that out.
"They just got it," Walker Jr. said of the Brother Rice defense. "They just got the better of us for this game. There's no do-overs.
"This is a terrible feeling. We came out here and played our hearts out. But things just didn't go our way."
Things eventually went the Crusaders' way.
Brother Rice brushed off a slow start offensively and got on the board with six minutes left in the first quarter on a speedy 42-yard touchdown run by Marquis Jackson.
Then, the Crusaders scored about halfway into the second quarter on a 21-yard pass from quarterback John Bean to Anthony Arquilla.
"They're a great team with a very good defense," Bean said of Warren, which had allowed 4 points per game and pitched 5 shutouts over its 10 straight wins. "They have a fantastic defensive line with some big boys. But we had some ideas and schemes that we thought could work and we finally got going."
Warren, which got into the red zone only once the entire game, had its best chance at a scoring opportunity in the final moments of the second quarter. Quarterback Phil Hird connected with Christian Phillips for a 42-yard pass play with less than 30 seconds before halftime to get the Blue Devils all the way to the Brother Rice 17-yard line. A penalty pushed Warren back to the 22-yard line and a couple of incomplete passes brought out the field-goal unit, but the Blue Devils missed on a 39-yard attempt.
Other than that, Warren didn't come close to scoring.
"We knew we had to try to stop (Walker Jr.) and I felt we did a good job of controlling him and forcing the quarterback to make plays," Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said. "I'm really happy for our seniors. This is their 20th win as a group at home. That's a great testament to them and I'm happy that we're moving on."
Brother Rice, which got an insurance touchdown in the third quarter on a 21-yard run by Jessi Plunkett, will now face a Marist team in the semifinals that is located just a mile or so away, and is a familiar foe.
The Crusaders handed Marist its only loss of the season in Week 1, 20-16 in a nonconference game.
"We know those guys down there on 115th Street," Badke said of Marist. "And they know us and we are really looking forward (to the rematch)."