JOLIET – Joliet Catholic senior wingback Michael Johnson rushed for 216 yards and scored four touchdowns, one on a 33-yard pass reception, Friday night at ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
Yet his most exciting moment of the Hilltoppers’ 41-3 homecoming victory over fellow East Suburban Catholic unbeaten Marian Central may have come while watching from the sideline.
“I was going crazy,” Johnson described the aftermath of JCA safety Bill Rotnicki’s 38-yard interception return that provided the dagger early in the third quarter. “I was so pumped up. I’m on the extra-point team and I couldn’t get out there.”
The Hilltoppers (5-0, 3-0) were leading only 7-3 at halftime. A week earlier, the Hurricanes erased a 19-0 second-quarter deficit in a stunning 34-19 victory over highly rated Nazareth.
This time, the Hurricanes (4-1, 2-1), coached by former JCA all-stater and assistant coach Mike Maloney, were outscored, 34-0, in the second half. Johnson, who scored from 9 yards out with 1:54 left in the first half to erase a 3-0 deficit, scored on a 10-yard run to conclude an 80-yard match that opened the second half.
Rotnicki’s pick-six came on the next play and extended the JCA lead to 21-3, and from there, the Hilltoppers were in complete control. Johnson added a 3-yard TD run and caught a 33-yard scoring pass from Cade Earl before taking the rest of the night off.
“Mike is a workhorse. He gives it all he’s got,” JCA coach Dan Sharp said of Johnson. “He had a heck of a game, and our guys blocked well in the second half.”
“I know they beat Nazareth last week, but we wanted to show them this was the Hilltoppers they were playing,” Johnson said.
Rotnicki said the Hilltoppers saw on film that the Hurricanes keyed their passing game toward receiver Eric Ruschke, who wears No. 4.
“They had been keying on No. 4 tonight, too, and I had my eyes on him and jumped in front of him,” Rotnicki said. “At first I saw some green in front of me, then I saw the wall of brown (jerseys, his teammates). Then I was able to use some offensive moves. It was the best feeling in the world to get into the end zone.”
“That interception was a punch to their gut, in a sense,” Sharp said.
While Johnson gained his 216 yards on 32 carries and caught two passes for 42, the Hilltoppers accumulated 386 total yards and limited Marian Central to 107. The Hurricanes’ Emitt Peisert, who rushed for more than 300 yards last week against Nazareth, managed 51 in 13 carries.
“In my humble opinion, this game was won in March and April,” Maloney said. “(JCA strength coach) Francis Ruettiger obviously has done a great job. If we’re going to match up up front against teams like this, we’ve got to put the time in. We didn’t get it done, and that’s on me.”
Maloney cited the dominance that JCA defensive tackles Ken Aguirre and the Tyler Witt/Ze’Veyon Furcron rotation provided.
“Their two defensive tackles caused problems,” he said. “It was not a good match-up for us personnel-wise. They mixed their outside blitzes, too, and that caused us more problems.”
“Our defensive staff, with Jake (Jaworski) coordinating it all, is doing an unbelievable job,” Sharp said. “They really have those kids playing well.”
The Hilltoppers were hit with a rash of penalties and committed two turnovers in the first half. Marian Central grabbed a 3-0 lead on Jake Higgins’ 27-yard field goal with 10:29 left in the second quarter and perhaps could have been up by more if not for the stout JCA defense.
“Everyone knows about Emitt (Peisert),” Maloney said. “I thought we had the ability to create some mismatches that we could exploit, but we didn’t execute.
“I thought we could have been up two scores in the first half. Maybe that would have changed the landscape of the game, maybe not.”
JCA sophomore Simon Grashoff and junior Rio Strama gained experience carrying the ball in the fourth quarter and were productive. Strama had 46 yards in three carries, including a 40-yard run and a 3-yard touchdown run, and Grashoff netted 34 yards in seven carries.