NEW LENOX – Providence coach Mark Coglianese preached the importance of a faster start for the offense, but it was the defense that provided the early spark in the Celtics’ 28-0 win Friday night over Chicago Catholic Blue rival St. Rita.
Providence (2-3, 1-1) hosts powerful Loyola on Friday.
Linebacker Dominic Ferraro recovered a fumble by Mustangs quarterback Connor Kelly on the first play from scrimmage to set up the Celtics at the St. Rita 21-yard-line.
Brendan O’Hara carried it 11 yards to the 10, and sophomore Mariano Sori-Marin scored two plays later on an 8-yard-run to make it 7-0 after the PJ Kowalkowski extra point.
“I told the guys before the game – I’ve been harping on it – but we’ve been outscored, 28-3, in the first quarter in the first four games, and that was a nice little spark, getting that turnover,” Coglianese said. “Our offense put it in and it gave us a little momentum. One of our goals was to come out and score in the first quarter.”
The Celtics’ offense, which has been hurt by the absence of injured running back Richie Warfield, ran efficiently under the guidance of junior quarterback Jared Drake. Making his third start, Drake led Providence to 14 points in the second quarter.
After defensive back Zach Pych intercepted Kelly at the St. Rita 35-yard-line, Drake engineered a six-play scoring drive. He found junior Martez Malone with a 12-yard scoring pass to make it 14-0.
The Celtics took a 21-0 lead into halftime after Drake led a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive. He hit the 6-foot-2, 215-pound O’Hara for a 34-yard gain before finding Luke Garwood with back-to-back passes that totaled 12 yards. Mike Markasovic carried the ball in from the 2 for the score.
Drake finished 16 of 26 for 165 yards and one touchdown. He distributed the ball to eight receivers. He found Adam Nichols with a 26-yard scoring strike to conclude the scoring in the third quarter.
“Our coaches developed a game plan to throw to different receivers,” Drake said. “Each guy wanted the ball and wanted to make plays for the team to help out and contribute.”
The Celtics need all hands on deck as Warfield, who has an MCL strain in his right knee, is expected to miss a couple more weeks. Providence also lost Sori-Marin to a broken collarbone during the St. Rita game.
“We’re getting thin, but guys are stepping up,” Coglianese said. He noted the offensive contributions of O’Hara, a starter at linebacker, as an example.
“Obviously, physically, he can do it,” he said. “He’s a leader. He came up to us about a week ago and said he wants to do more to help the team because he knew we were struggling a little bit.”
Providence is not struggling defensively, as evidenced by the Celtics forcing four Mustangs turnovers while holding St. Rita (1-4, 0-2) to 71 yards rushing and 80 yards passing.
“Our coaches always stress turnovers before the game, and we set a goal of forcing of four turnovers. We try to get that every game,” said Celtics linebacker Dan McDonald, who intercepted two passes.
“This was definitely a big win going into the next game. We needed it. We’re trying to get to five wins so we can make the playoffs, and our coaches say the conference is still there to win.”