St. Francis finishes unbeaten in MSC Blue
St. Francis senior Ryan French found a different way to the end zone Friday.
Filling in for senior Michael Baffa on special teams for the first time, French returned the opening kickoff against Aurora Central Catholic 83 yards for a touchdown.
"Once I passed that last guy and I took off, it was awesome," French said. "It's been a goal of mine to have a special teams touchdown. That was really fun."
The Spartans also scored a TD the first time the offense touched the ball, and they posted a 45-0 victory at Wheaton College to secure an outright Metro Suburban Blue championship.
St. Francis (8-1, 6-0) returns to the playoffs with plenty of momentum but a bit of adversity, personnel-wise. Last year's 8-3 team reached the Class 5A second round before losing at Rockford Boylan.
"It's obviously really great feeling this," said French, who has 8 TDs. "Winning conference was obviously a main goal of ours, but now it's moving on to our goal of winning state. It's a been a lot of fun, especially as my last season as a senior."
Baffa, filling in for injured starter Tommy Rittenhouse at quarterback, had a 3-yard TD run and threw TD passes to Jake Tangorra, French and Ben Bettag for 19, 80 and 37 yards, respectively. With help from Jackson Gerard's 17-yard end-around TD run and 8-yard TD pass to Amari Head as backup quarterback in the third quarter, St. Francis scored at least 40 points for the eighth time this season.
Defensively, Luke Meyer had two fumble recoveries on the first two possessions by ACC (1-8, 0-6) as the Spartans posted their fourth shutout.
"Just a great season," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. "A lot of this goes to the boys, the way they worked in the off-season, how they came in prepared, focused, determined to be a team to be reckoned with. They went out and did it this year."
The Spartans earned their first conference championship since 2014, when they shared the Chicago Catholic League Green Division title with Montini. That team lost to Class 6A champion Nazareth Academy, their furthest playoff run other than their 2008 Class 5A championship.
The sweetest victory was last week's 20-19 nail-biter over three-time defending state champion IC Catholic Prep that also snapped the Knights' 33-game winning streak.
In that victory, however, Rittenhouse, suffered a broken left arm. McMillen said Rittenhouse already has undergone surgery and could be ready for the first round of playoffs. The starting offensive line also lost left guard Ryan Holleman for the season to a left knee injury. T.J. McMillen moved from center to replace Holleman Friday.
"I thought a lot of guys stepped up. We're moving some pieces around, seeing what's going to be the best fit for us in the playoffs," Bob McMillen said.
In the first half ACC reached the 14 before Eric Welch's second interception of the season in the end zone on third-and-4. On the next play Baffa found French wide open at the ACC 45 and he did the rest for an 80-yard TD reception and 26-0 halftime advantage.
ACC also reached the 2 in the fourth quarter but could not convert on fourth-and-goal.
The Chargers hung tough in a challenging season under third-year coach Luke Brauweiler, a 2005 ACC graduate. They only competed varsity after beginning the season with 27 players in the entire program. The number rose to 31 and 26 dressed Friday, six of them seniors.
"It was a long season for us, outmanned every week. I think all 26 were out here and they fought," Brauweiler said.
"We learned a lot of things about ourselves and what kind of people we can be and what we have inside of us that we can carry forward to next year. At the end of the year, whether that scoreboard says 45-0 or 700-0, if these guys come out of here as good people then I think we did our job. We'll come back year ready to fight a little bit harder, hopefully."