The defense delivered with big plays early. The rushing attack churned out big gains.
And when all was said and done, Br. Rice was on its way back to the state semifinals.
Forcing 3 first-half turnovers and piling up 356 rushing yards, the host Crusaders eliminated top-seeded Minooka with a 38-21 victory on Nov. 16 in the Class 8A quarterfinals.
“I think the biggest thing is after we knew we were in the playoffs, after we knew it was one game at a time and it could be our seniors’ last game, I think we grew closer as a family,” said sophomore quarterback Jack Lausch. “The camaraderie is so much tighter than it was earlier in the year. I think that really helps our play on the field.”
Lausch (St. Barnabas) rushed 16 times for 117 yards and a TD and also threw for a score.
Juniors Willie Shaw (149 yards, TD) and Josh Bell (97 yards, TD) powered the Crusaders. Sophomore Brandon Rogers had a TD run and catch, helping Br. Rice to a 24-0 lead in the third quarter.
While the Crusaders dominated with their run game, the defense went to work.
Mario Brown’s interception in the end zone thwarted a promising first drive for Minooka, and Andrew Love picked off a pass in the red zone on the Indians’ second possession. Highly touted recruit Denver Warren added a fumble recovery off a strip sack.
Before taking over at quarterback in Week 9, Lausch played safety.
Switching to offense, the sophomore was well aware of the defense’s ability to deliver big plays.
“I knew even playing safety earlier; I knew our defense was special,” Lausch said. “I’m just really happy that I have them to pick me up if we can’t put points up.”
Rogers scored his first TD on a 19-yard rush after Shaw broke free for a 62-yard run to get the Crusaders out from the shadow of their own goal post.
After Minooka missed a field goal, Shaw (Kellogg) took a pitch and raced up the middle for a 39-yard score.
A Rogers 6-yard TD reception and a Lausch 6-yard rushing score extended Br. Rice’s lead in the third quarter.
According to Coach Brian Badke, putting Lausch under center was a turning point in the season for the Crusaders.
“Jack’s special. He’s a great player, but more importantly, just a great young man,” Badke said. “The guys feed off each other. Obviously, he’s a big part of that.”
Minooka made things interesting late through the air; but a high snap got away from Indians QB Seth Lehr, and Br. Rice recovered.
Bell followed with a 3-yard rushing TD.
Br. Rice had no turnovers in the quarterfinal win.
Freshman Jack Welniak (St. Cajetan) hit a field goal for the Crusaders.
The Crusaders will play at Warren on Nov. 23 in the state semifinals.
It’s the first time in program history that the team has advanced to the semifinals in consecutive seasons. Br. Rice lost to Loyola in the Class 8A title game a year ago.
“I’m really proud of these guys because they’ve dealt with a lot of adversity,” Badke said. “We had some changes and guys banged up. We had three starters out tonight, and for them to be able to deal with that, they believed in themselves. I’m extremely proud. Starting with the offensive and defensive lines, they dominated the game.”