Facing a Joliet Catholic Academy (JCA) team predominantly known for its ground-based offense, St. Rita junior Henry Wilson knew he might not get many chances in the secondary to make a game-changing play.

But, the defensive back wasn’t going to miss when the chance came along.

Wilson’s 40-yard interception return for a TD extended host St. Rita’s lead late in the first quarter, and the Mustangs went on to claim a solid 31-14 victory on Aug. 30 over Joliet Catholic in a nonconference showdown.

“We knew coming in that they’re a run-heavy team,” Wilson said. “I had to take advantage of the opportunity when they did throw the ball. I did whatever I could to deflect a pass and get an interception.”

Wilson’s defensive touchdown put St. Rita up 17-7 in the first quarter.

The Mustangs defense wasn’t done showing off its big-play ability as junior Michael Gaughan sealed the season-opener late in the fourth with a 99-yard interception return for a TD.

Gaughan made a perfect read on a JCA pass, breaking in for the pick and racing up the sideline untouched for the score with 28 seconds left in the game.

“We had guys make huge plays off turnovers,” said St. Rita Coach Todd Kuska. “When the defense can put the ball in the end zone or give the offense a good shot, that helps us out a lot. They fed off each other tonight.”

The 2 pick-6 touchdowns were huge for St. Rita, but this was an across-the-board effort from the defense. Senior defensive end Michael Milton (Beverly, Sutherland) finished with 2 sacks.

Gaughan and fellow junior Mykhai Harris also delivered big plays in the backfield in the second half in holding off a JCA comeback.

“Our team speed on defense was amazing,” Milton said. “We were able to get past the line and get into the backfield. It means the world to all these seniors to come out and win the first game. This win can carry us through the whole season.”

On offense, sophomore Kaleb Brown delivered a huge performance, scoring 2 touchdowns with 90 rushing yards and 67 receiving yards.

He rushed for a 3-yard strike to open the scoring, but he saved his best for late. Catching a screen pass from QB Brian Johnson (St. Christina), Brown juked his way past three tacklers near midfield and sprinted up the sideline for the 57-yard TD.

“It feels great to get this momentum,” Brown said. “I’m quick on my feet, so I knew I could take a step back and explode up the field. If the linebackers don’t fill their hole, I’m going to see end zone all the time and hit the hole as hard as I can.”

Johnson finished 11 for 18 for 159 yards and a TD. Sophomore Jorge Verduzco connected for a 22-yard field goal.

St. Rita’s gauntlet of a schedule will continue in Week 2 at Richards with the first of three straight road games that include Loyola Academy and Montini.

Joliet Catholic is the defending Class 5A state champion.

“Starting off the season with the state champs in your own house, everyone is going to be excited,” said Gaughan. “It’s one of the toughest schedules in the state, and we’re ready to take it on. We had a tough year last year, and a lot of people are counting us out. It’s good to say that we’re back on the map.”