Lightning delayed the 2014 season opener by nearly two hours Friday night but failed to prevent the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team from recording an historic victory.
Brian Kulaga scored two touchdowns and Nick Fucinato booted three field goals to lead the Bulldogs to a 22-0 victory over visiting Morton in Riverside.
It was the first time RBHS (1-0) has won its season opener since 2004.
“It was certainly a nice way to start the season,” RBHS coach Brendan Curtin said. “We’re pleased with our performance.
“I think what we’re most impressed with is how physical we played. One thing as coaches we always ask ourselves is are they prepared enough? You don’t know if they’re ready to turn it on in a game, but they rose to the challenge.”
The challenge was met at the outset, when Morton (0-1) took the opening kickoff and used its veer option offense to drive 64 yards to the RBHS 10-yard line.
But the Mustangs were whistled for a false start penalty and two subsequent runs netted nothing, with lineman Jordan Petronella stuffing Jose Muratalla for a two-yard loss to bring up fourth down. A 32-yard field goal attempt was short.
“It was certainly an eye-opener,” Curtin said of that drive. “Unfortunately there were times we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties that kept their drive alive. But our defense played a great game.”
Indeed, the Mustangs never threatened after that as the front three of Petronella, Edwin Rios and Dan Magee proved impenetrable and the linebacking corps led by David Pribyl-Pierdinock lived up to its billing. Reserve cornerback Mario Salgado came off the bench and had an interception in the fourth quarter that led to the Bulldogs’ final touchdown.
“I think it was just our ability to get off the ball on the line even with three players who were new to that spot,” Curtin said. “Our linebacking corps we felt was one of the strengths of our defense and they certainly proved that.”
Fucinato proved to be a diamond in the rough. The 5-10, 205-pound senior had never played high school football until Curtin noticed him kicking with friends on the football field this summer and invited him to try out.
Fucinato’s first kick in a game turned out to be a game-winner as his 36-yard field goal with 5:29 left in the second quarter gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead. He later connected from 37 and 26 yards to increase the lead to 9-0 late in the third quarter.
“There was no PAT [to get him warmed up],” Curtin said. “His first kick was a 36-yard field goal. That’s pretty impressive.”
The Bulldogs made five trips into the red zone and finally punched in a touchdown when Kulaga scored on a one-yard run early in the fourth quarter to make it 16-0. Kulaga later added a two-yard scoring run and finished with 102 yards on 17 carries.
Matt Chapp added 66 yards rushing and another 26 receiving, while junior quarterback Ryan Swift completed 10 of 18 passes for 98 yards and gained 47 yards on the ground.
This was the first time RBHS and Morton had faced each other on the gridiron since 1984, when Curtin’s brother, Kevin, played for the Bulldogs. Curtin was pleased not only that RBHS won but with the way they won. It was the Bulldogs’ first shutout in 21 games and their first under Curtin.
“Every section contributed to this victory,” Curtin said. “It wasn’t just only individual factor that got it done for us. It was a true team effort.
RBHS (1-0) visits area rival Nazareth on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Roadrunners (1-0) rolled to a 42-7 win over Bloomington on their opener.