WOODSTOCK – Struggling to get its offense rolling since its first play from scrimmage, Marian Central running back Brian Niemaszek dug in behind his offensive line and propelled his team to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Niemaszek finished with 121 yards rushing Friday in Marian Central’s 28-15 East Suburban Catholic Conference win over Joliet Catholic.
For the Hilltoppers (0-5, 0-3), it was another missed opportunity. With a fifth loss, Joliet Catholic will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and the fourth time since the playoffs began in 1974.
The teams entered the fourth quarter even at 7 before the Hurricanes (3-2, 1-2) produced their best drive – a 69-yard possession capped by Niemaszek’s 7-yard touchdown run.
Marian Central’s defense came up with three turnovers in the second half, including an interception from linebacker Riley Lambert on the next possession. Sam Limbaugh blocked a punt, and Wyatt Awe came up with a late interception.
“We just wanted to have fun tonight,” Marian Central coach Mike Maloney said. “For the first time all year, I wanted to see our team go out and take pleasure in the work of the game.”
The Hurricanes did just that, because the first half was a struggle. Marian Central opened the game with a failed onside kick attempt. It didn’t hurt them, however, because JCA kicker Tony Trabold missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
On the Hurricanes’ first play from scrimmage, quarterback Gavin Scott found A.J. Golembiewski for a 75-yard touchdown pass.
After that first play, the Hilltoppers’ defense kept Marian Central stuck on seven points until the fourth quarter. JCA’s Michael Butler scored on a 19-yard touchdown run minutes before halftime to even the score.
“We had chances in the first half, and we had chances at the end,” Hilltoppers coach Dan Sharp said. “They were able to execute better in the second half than we executed. When you ask your defense to keep going out there defending the short field, sooner or later it’s going to sting you.”
Once Niemaszek scored, Marian Central added two more scores in quick succession. Scott found freshman Patsy Ricciardi on a 14-yard pass, and Niemaszek ran in from 20 yards out.
JCA scored in the final minute on Keenan Hailey’s 79-yard run. He finished with 109 yards on nine attempts. Ke’von Johnson ran for 72 yards on 14 carries. Quarterback Pat Roth was 12 of 24 passing for 127 yards and two interceptions.
“We’ve got to work to get better,” Sharp said. “A lot of young guys are getting experience this year. That was a well-played football game; it just got away a little bit at the end. We’ve just got to do a better job of attacking them, just the fundamentals of football, sustaining blocks, driving to tackles.“