The Fenwick football team endured a nightmarish end to a dream season on a truly unforgettable Saturday afternoon. After the Friars rallied with 21 unanswered points to take the lead in the third quarter, host Rockford Boylan snatched victory from the certain jaws of defeat when Pete Cimino returned a punt 90 yards with no time left on the clock and 6-foot-1, 240-pound Zack Matthews ran in the-game winning 2-point conversion to pull off a miraculous 22-21 win over Fenwick in second-round action of the Class 7A state playoffs.
As trite as it sounds, the Friars (8-3) – especially their stunned seniors – will always remember the Titans (11-0), the two-time defending state champs who extended their gaudy winning streak to 11 straight playoff games and 38 games overall.
The Friars’ winning tradition is also well-documented under first-year head coach Gene Nudo. Unfortunately, Saturday’s setback goes down as probably the most shocking and gut-wrenching loss in the program’s illustrious history despite a very spirited effort from the Friars.
Before the frenzied finish, both teams dominated portions of the game. Boylan jumped out to a 14-0 lead after one quarter, courtesy of Demarcus Vines’ 11-yard touchdown run and quarterback Brock Stull’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Dan Appino.
The Friars stormed back in the third quarter putting 21 points on the board to take a 21-14 lead. Quarterback Gino Cavalieri (8-for-20, 102 yards) threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Donahue to trigger the scoring flurry. Twelve seconds later after a Boylan turnover (Cimino fumble), Cavalieri struck again on a 20-yard scoring strike to tight end Ryan Smith (2 catches, 31 yards) to knot the game at 14-all. Senior Pat Hart put Fenwick up 21-14 when he busted into the end zone from a yard out with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
After giving up a pair of early touchdowns the Fenwick defense was rock solid, yielding only five first downs to the Titans the rest of the game.
Fenwick running back Robert Spillane capped off his stellar campaign by rushing 23 times for 118 yards. The Friars finished with 298 yards of total offense compared to 229 for Boylan.
Defensive back John Dvorak picked off a Stull pass late in the fourth quarter to further solidify the Friars’ chances for victory before Cimino and Matthews crashed the party in improbable fashion.
Boylan moves on to the state quarterfinals and will face Lake Zurich.
Fenwick enjoyed an excellent season, highlighted by eight wins overall, including a 4-0 mark and title in the Chicago Catholic League White. The Friars also earned final play victories over Bishop McNamara and Huntley via their clutch kicker Zach Laszkiewicz and also put a scare into highly regarded Loyola before losing in Wilmette.
“These guys are easily my favorite group that I’ve coached,” Nudo said. “I’ve coached state champs and some great players, but I’m so proud of these guys. It was a big learning curve for them with a new coach, new terminology. They showed a great work ethic, dedication and, frankly, really rose to the occasion. These players are also highly intelligent, which makes it a pleasure to coach them.”