LISLE – “We’ll be all right.”
That’s what Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp told his team after Benet upset the Hilltoppers, 24-21, Friday night in an East Suburban Catholic game.
JCA trailed, 24-14, with 2:45 to play before mounting a nine-play, 63-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Cade Earl hit receiver Bill Rotnicki with a 19-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 24-21 with 1:26 to play.
The Hilltoppers did not recover the ensuing onside kick, and Benet ran out the clock.
JCA (7-1, 5-1) never led and the Redwings (6-2, 4-2) bottled up Hilltoppers running backs Michael Johnson (86 yards) and Ke’von Johnson (72 yards).
Earl threw three touchdown passes to account for JCA’s scores, two to Rotnicki and one to Michael Johnson.
The Hilltoppers turned the ball over four times in the second half. Michael Johnson fumbled twice and Earl was intercepted twice. JCA also was penalized nine times for 92 yards.
“Benet played very well. They tackled well. They got off their blocks well,” Sharp said. “It seemed every time we got something going offensively, there would be a penalty or they would create a turnover.
“You’re not going to win many games against a good team when you turn the ball over four times. We never got into a rhythm offensively.”
Benet led, 7-0, after the first quarter, but JCA tied it at 7, when Earl found Michael Johnson with a 14-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive with 10:55 to play in the second quarter.
The Redwings scored on the opening possession of the third quarter to make it 14-7. Ryley Guay nailed a 32-yard field goal with 7:28 left in the third quarter to extend the lead to 17-7.
JCA cut the deficit to 17-14 when Earl threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Rotnicki with 11:54 to play in the fourth quarter. The Hilltoppers’ Luke Phelan then recovered an onside kick to put his team in business at the Benet 47. JCA moved the ball to the Benet 32 before turning it over on downs.
Benet scored the clinching touchdown with 4:16 to play when, on a fourth-and-1 at JCA’s 21, Jack Sznajder hit Charlie Weidenbach over the middle for a 21-yard scoring strike to make it 24-14.
The Hilltoppers’ defense did its part to keep their team in the game. Zach Lukasik, Ken Aguirre and Ze’veyon Furcron recorded sacks, while Phelan was a one-man wrecking crew out of the secondary. The senior recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in addition to recovering the onside kick.
“On the fumble, Riley O’Donnell forced the fumble, I was just trailing the play and hopped on it,” Phelan said. “On the onside kick, I was actually not supposed to be on the field, but Bill Rotnicki was tired, so I came in. I had a feeling the ball was going to be there, so I just went where the ball was, saw it on the floor and dove on it.
“On the interception, I had a great jam by cornerback Nick Sandora, and I made a play on the ball.”
JCA finishes the regular season Friday when it hosts Marist.
“I feel very confident we’re going to bounce back,” Sharp said. “This is a lesson learned. You can’t turn the ball over. You have to come out and go hard every play.
“Our kids never quit. I think in a couple of weeks we will look more like the team we were when we started the season when we get a lot of our players back [from injuries].”