Milivojevic, St. Francis rally from two TDs down to knock off Joliet Catholic
Everything came together perfectly for St. Francis in the final two-plus quarters of Friday night's game against Joliet Catholic.
Early in the second quarter, the Hilltoppers were on the verge of a blowout road victory thanks to a powerful running game and a stingy defense.
Then, the game flipped thanks to a red zone fumble recovery by the Spartans in the second quarter.
From that point, St. Francis quarterback Alessio Milivojevic shredded Joliet Catholic's defense with precision-like work, junior running back TyVonn Ransom broke loose for several big runs and the defense tightened up.
The Spartans erased a 14-point second-quarter deficit, capping off a spirited comeback on Ransom's 2-yard touchdown run with 1:15 left in regulation for an improbable 33-28 victory in CCL/ESCC crossover action in Wheaton.
"The first half we didn't think we could stop the way they were running the ball," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. "We were trying everything. They were just pounding it at us. Our kids bought in. We asked them to fight in the second half and play more physical. I can't say enough with the way the defense played in the second half and our offense did what they did. Joliet Catholic is a great team. We've got a good group of kids. We're excited about this. It's a big win for our football team."
Joliet Catholic (3-2) fell victim to a few costly plays to go with a failed fourth-down attempt early in the third quarter. The second-quarter fumble and missed fourth down attempt allowed the Spartans (3-2) to stay in the game and slowly chop down the deficit.
"They just made more plays than us, so give credit to them," Joliet Catholic coach Jake Jaworski said. "We knew offensively they had some firepower. We had to prevent the big play and have no turnovers on offense. We had a fumble in the red zone and a turnover on downs in the red zone, so that's basically two turnovers right there. You can't do against a team with that much firepower."
Milivojevic, a Ball State recruit, showcased a rocket arm and tremendous poise in leading the Spartans back into the game, along showcasing the next-level IQ on the lengthy game-winning drive that started at the Spartans' own 13-yard line with 5:08 remaining.
His 33-yard pass to his sophomore brother Dario Milivojevic was the key play of the drive.
Alessio Milivojevic finished 20-for-29 for 322 yards, while Ian Willis caught five passes for 99 yards, Dario Milivojevic added five receptions for 65 yards and DeShaun Williams hauled in five catches for 67 yards and 2 TDs.
"We've had opportunities in week one and week four to change the game in the last drive, but we couldn't convert," Alessio said. "I really wanted to make the best out of this opportunity and have the back of our defense. Me and Dario, I always know where he will be 99% of the time. I took my time on that last drive and calmed down."
Still, the Hilltoppers drove the ball down the field, starting their final drive from their own 22-yard line with 1:07 left. Senior quarterback Andres Munoz completed four straight passes but his Hail-Mary attempt was intercepted at the goal-line by sophomore Zachary Washington with 15.6 left.
Washington injured his shoulder earlier in the game but returned to the game to notch his second interception of the season.
"I saw their quarterback rolling out left, but I knew there were guys behind me and I just stayed back and timed up the jump perfectly," Washington said.
Joliet Catholic senior running back HJ Grigsby, who rushed for 1,368 yards last year, picked up several members to his fan club with his inspiring rushing and catching performance. Grigsby, who has 12 offers, rushed for 169 yards, including an 18-yard TD run that gave JCA a 21-7 lead.
"We can learn from this game," Grigsby said. "The potential for us is just out of the roof. I see it every day in practice and games like this against a good team. We have a hard schedule. We have to get through the schedule and hopefully will be battle-tested for the playoffs."
Not to be outdone, Ransom had a huge game running the ball, gashing JCA's defense. Ransom sparked the Spartans with an 83-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Ransom rushed for 157 yards and scored a pair of TDs. His strong running in the second half was instrumental in the Spartans' comeback.
"That (long TD) felt amazing," Ransom said. "I saw the hole and just hit it. I trusted my speed and my teammates and got some great blocks."