St. Francis stops IC Catholic Prep's winning streak
One St. Francis hero went down. Another emerged.
Spartans star quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse left Friday's game against IC Catholic Prep with an arm injury with four minutes left in the third quarter, his team trailing by 12 points.
Michael Baffa took over. His last start was two years ago as a sophomore.
"I don't think I've been that nervous ever -- in anything, ever," he said.
Baffa scored on a 1-yard run and delivered a 14-yard strike to Tyler Bishop on fourth-and-11 to set up Ben Radel's 9-yard touchdown run with 5:31 left to play. Jackson Gerard's extra-point kick gave St. Francis a 20-19 Metro Suburban Blue victory on Friday at Wheaton College, dealing the three-time defending state champs their first loss after 33 straight victories.
"I got a chance," Baffa said. "I've been waiting to actually get a chance to start and play. I know it's not my time and that guy who has it, No. 5 (Rittenhouse) deserves every bit of it, but I'm glad I got my chance to go out there."
Hero should actually be heroes.
After Rittenhouse went down and Baffa was tackled 6 inches shy of the goal line on fourth down late in the third quarter, the Spartans' Ben Bettag recovered an ICCP fumble on the next play. Two plays later St. Francis (7-1, 5-0) pulled within 19-13 on Baffa's 1-yard run.
The offensive line of Connor Schmidt, Kevin O'Connell, T.J. McMillen, Michael Bumpus and Joey Mayor withstood bruisers like IC Catholic linebacker Kevin Cooke and defensive linemen A.J. Howard and Antonio Richardson. They set the stage for Radel's winning 9-yard run.
"This is a great team, we beat them, we came out and had a true team effort and it means the world," said Radel, who ran 28 times for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns.
St. Francis threw two interceptions in its first six passes. After IC Catholic (7-1, 4-1) broke the ice on Danny Cronin's 9-yard run the Spartans scraped for Radel's game-tying touchdown only to see Knights running back Kyle Franklin score on a 78-yard run the next play from scrimmage for a 13-7 lead the Knights took into halftime.
At 8:04 of the third quarter, Franklin followed Cronin's defensive interception with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 19-7 Knights lead.
"I loved the game," said Franklin, who gained 189 yards on 18 carries. "We wanted a game like that, we wanted a hard-fought game, we wanted a game to fuel us. I feel like tonight was a great night to fuel us. We really have to bounce back as a team, I feel like we will."
St. Francis coach Bob McMillen, a 1988 Immaculate Conception graduate, said Rittenhouse suffered either a dislocation or break in his left, non-throwing arm. It took a great outing on defense as well with Luke Meyer, O'Connell and others, to get this done.
"I'm proud of this team, the way we fought," McMillen said. "We beat a very good football team. I mean, this doesn't define who they are, this doesn't define who we are, it's just another football game, but it sure feels good right now."
IC Catholic, which hurt itself with penalties after Baffa's third-quarter touchdown, missed on a 43-yard field goal with 1:07 to play.
"A ton of respect and credit to their whole program," said Knights coach Bill Krefft. "That ability to play in the fourth quarter is what it's been coming down to in this conference, and they've shown that they can do that again and again."