St. Laurence wasn’t going to let this game slip away.

The Vikings had endured enough. Against Joliet Catholic, St. Laurence’s game-winning field goal was blocked. Against Benet Academy, a late touchdown for the Redwings cost the Vikings the game.

However, against host Br. Rice, things were different.

Behind a dominant ground game and a stingy defensive effort, the Vikings took down the Crusaders 21-10 on Oct. 11 in a Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference crossover.

“We finally found the courage to finish a game,” said senior lineman Myron Lewis. “It took us time, but we believed in each other. Coming in, we started off a little slow until halftime. We got punched in the mouth, and adversity hit. We hit back.”

It was the first time St. Laurence beat Br. Rice since 1993, and for the Vikings, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Heading into the Week-7 game, Coach Adam Nissen’s squad needed 2 wins over its final three games to be eligible for the state playoffs. St. Laurence improved to 4-3 and has games remaining at Providence Catholic and De La Salle.

“You’ve got to keep pushing. We need to believe in ourselves, our coaches and our system,” Nissen said. “It’s a great win, and I don’t want to take anything away from it; but we have some work left to do.”

Working out of a 3-point deficit at 10-7 in the third quarter, the Vikings turned to their workhorse, star running back Nate Thomas, for a game-changing play.

Catching a short pass from QB Darius Wilson out of the backfield at the 35-yard line, Thomas raced up the right sideline, smashing through a wall of Br. Rice defenders and finally spinning away from one last defender before sprinting into the end zone for a 65-yard highlight-reel score.

Senior wide receiver Brailyn Johnson delivered a huge block on the play.

“I was surprised myself, too. To be honest, I can’t even explain it,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I kept my feet in, and it was Brailyn; that was an amazing block. Everybody contributed to that play, not just me. Darius kept the play alive. It was everybody.”

Thomas finished with 51 rushing yards, a 5-yard rushing TD in the second quarter and his 65-yard TD reception that ultimately put the Vikings up for good.

With St. Laurence holding a 14-10 advantage, Wilson provided the exclamation point on the win with a QB keeper, rushing to the left for a 30-yard TD with 8:58 left in the game.

A junior, Wilson piled up 116 rushing yards and 102 passing yards.

“The offense has developed well this season,” Wilson said. “Everything’s clicking, and everyone is doing their job. Our boys have my back, and I’ve got their back. It’s a team thing. We’re all going to ball together.”

Robert Srebalus, Marc McCoy, Damaurius Stewart, Jimmy Moore (St. Cajetan), Luke Baldwin and Lewis anchored the offensive line.

Lewis (2 tackle for loss) and Sean Burns (sack, 2 TFL) powered the defense with 8 tackles each. Ryan Carroll and Will Waters added 6 tackles apiece. Sean Harrison (TFL) and Jordan McMath (pass break-up) also delivered timely plays.

Br. Rice struggled to sustain drives and came up short on three fourth-down conversion attempts in the second half.

“It was continuing to apply pressure all night long,” Lewis said. “We believed in each other. Their guys played their hearts out, and we played our hearts out. This was a big one, a big game heading into Week 8 and 9.”

Junior running back Willie Shaw powered Br. Rice (4-3) in the loss with 105 rushing yards, a TD and 30 receiving yards.

Ben Somers (140 passing yards), Dwayne Moorehead (32 receiving yards) and Jack Welniak (28-yard FG) chipped in for the Crusaders.