Brother Rice pulls away from South Elgin in 2nd half
The Brother Rice defense started strong and grew into a monster.
The South Elgin offense scored 7 points and gained 75 yards in the first half of Saturday's Class 8A second-round playoff game in Chicago, but a Crusaders' halftime defensive adjustment suffocated the Storm.
Leading 8-7 at halftime, No. 24 Brother Rice (7-4) surprised No. 8 South Elgin (9-2) by switching to a 3-3 stack, a defensive scheme "they haven't run all season long," Storm coach Dragan Teonic said.
Five South Elgin second-half possessions netted -11 yards and spelled the end of the road for the Upstate Eight Conference co-champions. They punted three times, turned the ball over on downs and threw a late interception.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders pulled away by gaining 165 second-half yards and scoring 17 points for a 25-7 win. They advance to a quarterfinal against No. 1 Minooka (11-0), which defeated No. 16 Edwardsville 34-17.
The Crusaders typically play a four-man defensive front, but they stacked three linebackers behind three linemen to present South Elgin with a different look.
"We've got some guys up front who can definitely play that zero technique where you can play two gaps," Crusaders coach Brian Badke said of 235-pound senior Justin Jefferson and 220-pound senior Alex Roach. "We just always wanted to have another option and have a three-man front to defend that."
South Elgin played toe-to-toe with the 2018 Class 8A runner-up for the first 24 minutes.
The teams played a scoreless first quarter before the Crusaders dented the scoring column on a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Jack Lausch. The sophomore scored on fourth-and-goal with seven minutes left in the half, but the 2-point conversion pass was dropped.
The Storm answered with what proved to be their best drive of the game. Senior Marcus Gillespie III converted on fourth-and-1 from the South Elgin 44-yard line on a 2-yard pitch from quarterback Ben Karpowicz.
Shiking Marshall then raced 46 yards on a misdirection play to the 8-yard line. Karpowicz connected with 6-foot-3 senior receiver Calin Gurau for a touchdown on the next play. Drew Bucaro's extra point staked the Storm to their only lead, 7-6, with 4:15 left in the second quarter.
However, Brother Rice grabbed the lead back before halftime. Junior Mick Badke, who missed his sophomore season due to a knee injury, sacked Karpowicz for an 11-yard loss to the South Elgin 4-yard line. Badke blitzed again on the ensuing play with the Storm offense misaligned and tackled Gillespie in the end zone for a safety that vaulted the Crusaders to an 8-7 lead with 1:25 left in the half.
"We should have had the lead at half," Teonic said.
Freshman kicker Jack Welniak's 27-yard field goal extended the Brother Rice lead to 11-7 midway through the third quarter. Lausch capped a 7-play, 63-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown, and Willie Shaw scored on an 18-yard run with 6:10 remaining to complete the scoring.
Afterward, the Storm spent 30 minutes exchanging hugs, shedding tears and soaking up their final moments as one of the most successful teams in South Elgin history.
"It's just an incredible group of kids," Teonic said. "It's so different in today's society just to see a bunch of kids come together in a group and pull in the same direction. How fun is that? Everything is so me, me, me with Instagram and Snapchat and every kid in the hallways has his earbuds in and no one talks to anybody. Just to have a family and a group of kids that pulls together and a coaching staff that's willing to put in long hours, I've just enjoyed the heck out of it."
What did the experience mean to the players?
"It means everything," three-year starter Vince Clinite said, choking back his emotions. "Everything. That's all I can say."