The air was cold and the field wet but Matt Chapp was a star on fire for the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team on Saturday.
On a miserable afternoon unfit for offense, Chapp scored on an electrifying 82-yard punt return to ignite the visiting Bulldogs to a 26-7 victory over IC Catholic Prep in Metro Suburban Conference West Division action at Plunkett Field in Elmhurst.
Chapp’s touchdown, the first of his career on a punt return, gave RBHS a 7-0 lead with 50 seconds left in the first quarter after the first five possessions of the game ended in punts. The Knights appeared to have him contained at the RBHS 30, but he broke a tackle, bounced it outside and fought off two more tackles while racing up the left sideline in the rain.
“It was really just great blocking all-around,” Chapp said. “As I got the ball, I saw a hole. I hit it and then I had teammates up the field blocking for me doing what they do.
“All my teammates had perfect blocks and they know how I play. It was all history from there.”
Chapp had nearly broken a punt return for a touchdown earlier in the season against St. Edward, so RBHS coach Brendan Curtin wasn’t surprised to see him score.
“We tell the other 10 guys on the field, you’ve got to go to the whistle because you just never know with that kid with the cutbacks and change of direction,” Curtin said. “He’s special. We’re trying to move him around. We know there’s the highest probability of our scoring when he gets the ball.”
The punt return was a huge psychological boost for the Bulldogs (4-2, 2-0) on a day when it looked like neither offense would be able to move the ball. But RBHS was unable to immediately consolidate the lead as the next three drives ended in punts and the score remained 7-0 at halftime.
“We always try to play with a sense of urgency,” said Chapp, who had a game-high 104 yards on 18 carries. “When you score those kind of touchdowns it just gives you more momentum to play even faster and score and score. But the conditions were a little bit crazy today.”
The Bulldogs had nothing to worry about because their defense was terrific, forcing four turnovers. Sophomore Ja’Mari Wise and seniors Adolfo Linares and Mike McCabe intercepted IC freshman quarterback Luke Ricobene and senior Eashaun Banks recovered a fumble.
Ricobene completed 14 of 32 passes for 234 yards, but all but 42 of those yards came in the second half as the Knights (3-3, 1-1) tried to rally. He did toss a 27-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Jordan with 40 seconds left in the game to avert the shutout.
“[Ricobene] was pretty good,” RBHS linebacker David Pribyl-Pierdinock said. “I give him a lot of credit for playing on the varsity as a freshman, but we were able to take advantage of his mistakes and capitalize on them and that was great.”
McCabe returned his pick 97 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 26-0 lead with 3:01 left in the fourth quarter. That came two minutes after Chapp had scored on a 16-yard run to cap a 14-play, 82-yard drive that began after Banks stripped Jordan.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game,” Pribyl-Pierdinock said. “They have some athletes and they’ve got some great players.
“We knew we had to come in, play fast, physical football. We knew who their playmakers were and we had to shut them down and we did that pretty effectively.”
Pribyl-Pierdinock played a big role in that. The 6-0, 230-pound junior was all over the field making tackles and his sack of Ricobene set the stage for Chapp’s punt return.
Pribyl-Pierdinock also saw time at fullback in the second half, finishing with 32 yards rushing on six carries, including a two-yard touchdown run that made it 13-0 in the third quarter.
“I think last week he really came into his own as far as fullback,” Curtin said. “Even if he gets five snaps on offense he’s kind of a difference maker. He brings a different mindset.
“Obviously, defense is his thing. He makes it go. There’s guys in front of him like [Jordan] Petronella and Linares behind him, but he’s the linchpin of that defense.”
So despite being held to 193 yards of total offense, the Bulldogs remain tied for first in the conference and are closing in on their first playoff berth in five years.
“This win is really big,” Pribyl-Pierdinock said. “Two more wins and we’re clinching a playoff spot. That will be a big turnaround for R-B football if we are able to make that happen.”