In 1991, Brother Rice was victorious visiting St. Rita on the football field. Then senior, and current head coach Brian Badke was a member of that squad. That season was the last time that the Crusaders defeated the Mustangs away from home.
That is, until the miraculous events of Friday evening unfolded before hundreds of fans and thousands of television and internet viewers.
Besides not winning away from home against the Mustangs for twenty years, Rice had not beaten St. Rita since 2007, which left many, including Coach Badke, wondering why this contest was still considered a rivalry.
Despite the doubters, Rice players were loose in the locker room before the game, and jogged onto Pat Cronin Field confident and ready to rumble. At approximately 7:38 p.m., St. Rita kicked off to the Crusaders, and the soon-to-be legendary competition was underway.
Fans waited patiently for more than eight minutes before a team finally drew blood. It was the Crusaders and Chris Rozell, who captured a beatifully thrown long-ball by quarterback Matt Page, then rushed into the endzone for a 54-yard touchdown reception. Rice led 7-0 after one quarter, but the Mustangs were far from finished.
Aided by the outstanding run-game of Tim Lombard, St. Rita managed a 65-yard drive in just over three minutes. Lombard bullied his way into the endzone for a one-yard score to conclude the possession as the game became knotted at seven a piece. Now it was Rice's turn.
After forcing the third Mustang punt of the game, the Crusaders returned to offense, poised to take the lead yet again. Despite being sacked twice, Page managed a 12-yard run for a key first down. Two plays later, Page connected with sophomore Marcus Jones for a 34-yard touchdown reception, giving Rice a 14-7 advantage.
With less than four minutes remaining in the half, St. Rita looked to tie things up for the second time. Mustang quarterback John Kelley hit various receiving targets before finding Tom Adent with a corner pass to the endzone. The score was now 14-14 with only 1:15 remaining in the first half.
The limited time did not stop Matt Page from putting his arm to good use. On this final possession before halftime, Page threw his team all the way down to the St. Rita 23-yard line before Coach Badke sent in the field goal unit. However, Rice faked the field goal, but the pass was thrown into the hands of a Mustang. This conlcuded the half, with neither team getting the upper hand.
Beginning second half play, the Crusaders hoped to seize momentum. They did, for a short while, when lineman Marcus Cheatom sacked Kelley for the the first time of the game. However, the Mustangs took it back on the very next play when Kelley found Tom McCormick, who sprinted 85 yards to the house and ignited the Mustang fan section. St. Rita now lead 21-14, and saught to take control from this point forward.
The Mustangs had their chances, but the Crusader defense played with incredible heart and intensity, and never gave up on their team. A failed fake punt attempt gave the Mustangs the ball at Rice's 30-yard line. Two passes gave St. Rita two first downs, but Rice's "D" would not quit. Facing a fourth down five yards, the Mustangs sent in the field goal unit. However, the 22-yard attempt was no good, and Rice received possession.
Rice had their chances as well, but faltered in similar fashion. On first and ten in the redzone, Jones lost the ball on a fumble and St. Rita took over. That was the closest Rice got as part of their scoreless third quarter.
On their last possession of the quarter, the Mustangs used four consecutive rushes by Sondai Adjei to move the ball deep into Rice territory. The Crusaders then failed to stop a QB run on third down, which resulted in a first and goal for the Mustangs. Lombard rushed it down to the one-yard line before the quarter ended. St. Rita appeared ready to take a commanding 14-point lead to start the final quarter.
The Crusaders had other plans, however. A fumble on the goal-line was recovered by Brian Craft as Rice fans went wild. Page and the "O" managed to move the ball to midfield before being sending out the punt squad. What happened next, well, fans from both sides are still wondering what otherworldly forces were in play.
The Crusader punter, Spencer Scott, sent one high downfield. No Mustang was in position to catch the ball cleanly, and Crusader defenders continued running downfield. Somehow, the ball bounced off the foot of a Mustang, then rolled to the middle of the field where the Crusaders recovered it.
Though the Crusaders were again stopped short of the endzone, Brian Kane came through with a clutch, 40-yard field goal that cut the St. Rita lead to four, with a score of 21-17. Rice was just a touchdown away from victory, with six minutes to go in the heated contest.
As occurred throughout the game, the Crusader defense came through when the team needed them most. A two-minute St. Rita possession did not see them cross midfield before punting.
With less than four minutes left, Rice recognized that this could be their last chance. If they were going to pull off this unforeseen victory, now was the time. Rice had the ball on their own 30-yard line.
First, Page hit receiver Luke Mueller for eight yards. Marcus Jones then rushed for the first down near midfield. A penalty on the Crusaders sent them back five yards, but a key reception by Chris Rozell led to another first down for Rice. Stuck at St. Rita's 32-yard line, two incomplete passes brought up fourth down and seven for the Crusaders.
Two times in this half, Rice had failed to convert on fourth down. But, as the old saying goes, the third time's a charm. Page connected with number fourteen Malik Moody, who incredibly danced around numerous Mustang defenders for a thirty-yard gain. This, the play of the game, gave the Crusaders a first and goal inside the five-yard line.
Two plays later, Page dove into the endzone to give his team a 23-21 advantage with less than two minutes to play. However, a blocked PAT left the door slightly open for the Mustangs.
That door, fittingly, was slammed shut by the outstanding Crusaders defense. First, it was Dan Scanlon, replacing the injured Marcus Cheatom, who sacked Kelley on first down. Redic Richardson followed suit with a big tackle on Tom Adent. Finally, Mike Bettinardi locked the door and swallowed the key as he tipped a pass out of the reach of Adent on fourth down.
The Crusaders had done it. Confronted by nearly every kind of adversity imaginable, they stuck together through it all. Both teams fought extremely hard, per the usual for Catholic League contests. However, to put it simply, it was Brother Rice's night, and there was nothing that St. Rita could do about it.
The Crusaders now hold a 3-1 record, and are 1-0 in the Catholic League Blue. The Mustangs are 2-2, and are 0-1 in league play. Next week, Rice looks to remain perfect in conference play against Mount Carmel, and St. Rita will try to pick up its first conference win against Providence Catholic.