St. Rita ends season for Rolling Meadows
The long bus ride didn't matter. Neither did the continuous downpour.
The only thing that Rolling Meadows' Connor Fennelly and his Rolling Meadows teammates would have liked to change was the outcome.
Rolling Meadows fell 42-7 to host St. Rita Friday in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs. But despite the disappointing loss, Fennelly looked at his team's appearance as a huge win.
"I have been looking forward to this my whole life, to play in the playoffs," said Fennelly, who is a linebacker. "It was great to experience the playoffs, especially after last season."
Rolling Meadows (5-5), which was seeded 23rd in Class 7A, upended Prospect a week ago to earn its 10th consecutive playoff appearance. Meadows head coach Sam Baker said he was proud of the effort his team gave all season.
"We started off 0-2 and we were playing in the playoffs," Baker said. "That just shows the character and resiliency of these kids. They played last spring, had a short summer and we were right back it at."
Baker said that from his team going 2-4 in the spring, to the slow start this fall season, and then pulling together to make the playoffs, made this team special.
"They battled back," Baker said. "We beat our rival to get into the playoffs and we were just a couple of inches from beating BG and sharing the conference title. Our kids showed a ton of resilience."
St. Rita (8-2), which is seeded 10th in Class 7A, will play the winner of Saturday's game between 7th-seeded Collinsville and 25th seed Geneva next weekend.
St. Rita scored just 28 seconds into the game. St. Rita built a 35-0 halftime lead thanks to 3 touchdown runs and a pass from Tommy Ulatowski, the CCL/ESCC Green Division offensive player of the year.
"St. Rita is a good football team," Baker said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them playing in the semis or the state finals."
Despite being down at the half, Rolling Meadows showed character and played St. Rita nearly even in the second half.
After St. Rita scored to make it 42-0, Rolling Meadows struck right back. Evan Grace (8-of-14, 169 yards) connected with Ethan Groark (6 receptions, 140 yards) on an 80-yard touchdown pass.
"We don't quit," said Groark, who finished the season 1,088 receiving yards.
"It is all about Mustang pride. We lived through that. We had great examples in front of us from last year and the 2019 team. I learned so much from them and just wanted to keep the tradition going."
Nick Beckler, who is a senior tight end and linebacker, said he will never forget playing in a playoff game.
"It was the last game for seniors and we put it all out there," Becker said. "Right after this game, that's when all the thoughts start rushing in. I would play this every day to keep it going, even playing the same team.
"Coach Baker said there are five games that you remember for the rest of your life. And this will be one of my five games."