St. Francis survives Peoria Notre Dame to move on
Adam Criter was not playing his customary position as the Class 4A football playoff game reached its frenetic conclusion Saturday afternoon in Wheaton.
But the St. Francis senior more than delivered in the clutch against a determined Peoria Notre Dame outfit.
With PND crowding the line of scrimmage with less than two minutes to play, Criter, forced to switch to quarterback from his wideout position when star sophomore Alessio Milivojevic was lost to the Spartans late in the second quarter, not only converted a fourth-and-three but eventually went the distance.
The fifth-seeded Spartans could breathe much easier after escaping the resilient Irish 41-31.
St. Francis (8-2) will meet No. 4 Genoa-Kingston (9-1) in second-round action; the No. 12 Irish had their season end at 7-4.
"It was definitely an adjustment," said Criter, who raced for 36 of his game-high 208 yards rushing on his final carry, on moving to quarterback. "I feel like we prepared very well for this (eventuality). (The clinching run) was all due to grit, attitude and focus."
St. Francis neither trailed nor could PND forge a tie when the former scored the first 14 points of the game.
But it was far from a stroll in the park for the Spartans after Ryan Calcagno collaborated with Milivojevic on a 51-scoring reception to open the high-octane show in the first quarter.
Criter doubled the Spartans' early lead with a short touchdown plunge, his first of three scores.
PND would strike back, though, scoring twice in the second quarter to trail only 14-12 at halftime.
But touchdown conversions would be a key storyline for the game.
PND theoretically could have had the lead when Criter had the last of his rushing scores as a Wildcat operator had it not missed two traditional extra-point kicks and an equal number of 2-point tries.
"We put in a new kick-block," said Calcagno, who rejected the first Irish PAT kick. "We knew how important it was. (The conversion stops were) a huge team effort on special teams."
"The (point-after) conversions hurt, and we couldn't stop some of their kids on the outside," PND coach Pat Armstrong said.
There were five consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half as PND always seemed to find an answer to the Spartans' efficiency on the three odd-numbered possessions.
"Those are some tough boys over there," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said of the Irish. "I'm just happy we came out with the victory."
Criter had a 30-yard romp to start the parade to the end zone; Amari Head also had a showstopping 51-yard gallop for St. Francis.
St. Francis' backfield features another diamond in the rough in Blake Lawson, but the junior -- not quite sure of the nature of his injury -- also left the game never to return after his lone offensive touch netted a 40-yard gain.