St. Rita stymies Geneva, ends Vikings' bounce-back season
Geneva knew there weren't many people giving the Vikings a chance.
As the Vikings football team took the field Friday night, hosting St. Rita in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, there was always belief in their locker room.
Geneva held St. Rita to just three first half points led by a stellar defensive effort, but the Vikings just didn't have enough for a talented opposition. St. Rita used a couple of big plays in the second half for a 28-7 victory in a game that finished lopsided, but doesn't tell the entire story.
"They fought, they clawed and they did absolutely everything we could have asked from them," Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen said of his defense. "They wanted to make a statement and prove that it wouldn't be easy to win a second round playoff game against us on this field."
St. Rita (9-2) was only able to muster up 55 yards of total offense before the break -- to Geneva's 65 -- and found its only points of the first two quarters on a 40-yard field goal from Conor Talty.
That field goal came after St. Rita blocked a Geneva punt to start a drive in prime scoring position at the Geneva 18-yard line.
The Vikings defense bent, but didn't break for most of the first half, increasing belief in the locker room.
"I think we [legitimately] went into the locker room and believed that we could win this game," Geneva senior linebacker Mac Happold said. "I just think as the season went on, there was continued belief within this group. There were people saying we'd go 0-9 this year and look where we ended up. I think it says a lot about how far we came not only as a defense, but as a team."
Happold and fellow senior Blake Stempowski, who led the charge for the Geneva defense for most of the season, got a big boost from Tommy Diamond. The sophomore, who was called up for the postseason, had two first-half sacks and was in the St. Rita backfield early and often Friday night.
However, after the halftime break, St. Rita matched its entire first half yardage total on one quick play. A 55-yard scamper from Ethan Middleton down to the Geneva 1-yard line set up the first of two rushing touchdowns for quarterback Tommy Ulatowski.
That was the first of four separate scoring drives for the Mustangs after halftime, capped off by Ulatowski's second score -- from two yards out -- to seal the victory in the final minutes.
"That was our goal to get it to be a game in the second half," Thorgesen said. "I think we gave ourselves a chance, but put ourselves in too big of a hole offensively. The kids kept fighting and just came up against an extremely solid football team in St. Rita."
The Mustangs also got a boost from the return of RB/WR Kaleb Brown. The Ohio State commit, who had missed nearly all of his senior season due to a leg injury suffered in Week 1, returned to the field Friday night.
"It felt great to be back out there doing what I love to do," said Brown, who finished the night with three catches for 46 yards, a rushing touchdown and 2-point conversion reception. "We just needed to play our game and take what they give us. That was it honestly."
While St. Rita celebrated, Geneva got a taste of the postseason success in had sought after for the past several seasons. Sophomore running back Nate Stempowski found Jackson Reyes on a RB pass with 7:32 to go -- cutting the deficit to 21-7 -- but couldn't muster a heroic comeback.
Thorgesen thinks while the loss is fresh and next season seems quite far away, this season was, without question, a step in the right direction.
"Every game was a battle," Thorgesen said. "We knew that if you get to the second round of the playoffs, you're going to get the experience of playing a really good football team and we got that tonight ... We were there, had a chance and that's all to the credit of the heart, fight and pride that these kids played with for this program."
Tyler Tuisl finished his Geneva career on a high note with seven catches for 121 yards in the loss.