After a 33-7 loss at St. Edward during the third week of the season, The Riverside-Brookfield High School football program under Brendan Curtin reached a crossroads. The loss dropped the Bulldogs’ record to 1-2 and 4-17 overall under Curtin.
“We were all down here after Week 3 scratching our heads and asking some questions,” Curtin said. “We lost to Nazareth [49-6] the previous week, but that’s a special, unique program so that was understandable.
“With all due respect to St. Edward, we felt like that loss was our one hiccup, our one mulligan. You’re only allowed one especially since we only had six more cracks at this in the regular season.”
Since the St. Edward game, RBHS has won four games in a row and the Bulldogs are averaging 40 points while allowing only 10 per game. Curtin, his dedicated coaching staff and playmakers like running back Matt Chapp, running back/linebacker David Pribyl-Pierdinock, quarterback Ryan Swift and defensive lineman Jordan Petronella have suddenly brought back a long awaited buzz around the RBHS football program.
Hard work, toughness, patience and perseverance have served as the elixir to the Bulldogs’ burgeoning reputation as a very dangerous team.
“Any coach whose hungry and driven will tell you that he’s going to make a difference the first day on campus,” Curtin said. “I believe that’s true but sometimes it just takes time to show. The coach in me thinks it could have happened sooner at R-B. We took our lumps early on, but that’s part of the process when you’re implementing new standards and changing values and beliefs.
“I feel more comfortable now because I know the kids and they know me. We have the best interests of these kids at heart.”
Curtin also has an appreciation for the history of the football program.
“When my brothers Brian, Kevin and Michael played at RB, toughness was always associated with the program,” Curtin said. “I think somewhere along the line we lost that identity, but it’s starting to come back. We have a saying around here, ‘TGHT,’ which means, ‘the game honors toughness’.”
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Bulldogs’ TGHT mentality has engendered a feeling of TGIF among the players regarding game nights.
Chapp certainly is cherishing Friday night games after missing most of last season with an injury. Whether it’s been touchdown runs, catches or returns in special teams, the incredibly elusive senior has been a scoring machine.
Chapp maintained his ability to find the end zone by scoring four touchdowns Friday during the Bulldogs’ 49-6 rout of Fenton in Metro Suburban Conference West Division action.
And here’s a scary thought for opponents moving forward. The RBHS offense features many more weapons than just Chapp. Swift turned in his best and most efficient performance against the Bison at Shuey Stadium. The 6-1, 215-pound signal called completed 14 of 18 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think I’ve actually underperformed to my potential,” Swift said. “I am seeing the game better much this season though. I know I can play better the rest of the season.
“Overall, I think the players on this team have a different mindset this year. We’re a lot tougher this year. We have a good mindset and good group of guys. We worked really hard during the offseason and [now] we’re seeing all the work pay off.”
Tight end Kyle Tracy also turned in an impressive performance snagging eight catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Throw in offensive threats like Brian Kulaga (six carries, 27 yards against Fenton), Jeremiah Clarkson (four carries, 44 yards, TD against Fenton) Pribyl-Pierdinock, Antone Dixon and Dean Zigulich plus a solid offensive line and it’s easy to discover why RBHS has found a new gear offensively.
The defense, also known as “The Dark Side,” has also played exceptionally well allowing just 40 points over the past four games. Pribyl-Pierdinock, one of the best linebackers in the conference, along with Petronella, safety Adolfo Linares, linebacker Matt McCabe, cornerback Jimmy Kunkel and Matt Magee lead the Bulldogs’ stout defense, which also has done a nice job creating takeaways this season.
RBHS amassed 457 yards of total offense on 42 plays against Fenton, while limiting the Bison to 177 yards offensively.
“We have a bunch of great playmakers on defense that have been playing several years on the varsity level,” Petronella said. “We also have good chemistry and we know who needs to make plays at the right time.
“A lot of credit belongs to our coaches. It’s a privilege to play for the coaches we have because they work their butts off to help us get better.”
Against Fenton, RBHS raced out to a 28-0 halftime lead and never looked back en route to becoming playoff eligible. The Bulldogs (5-2, 3-0) visit Aurora Central Catholic on Friday, Oct. 17 at 7:15 p.m.
RBHS closes out the regular season in Glen Ellyn against Glenbard South on Friday, Oct. 24 at 7:15 p.m. The regular season finale against the Raiders will likely carry conference title implications as both RBHS and Glenbard South currently share first place.
“There has been a handful of contributing factors to our success this season, but the most defining contributing factor is the kids on our team,” Curtin said. “They come to practice focused every day and they want to get better. I think they also take pride and have a genuine sense of fulfillment when they see each other do well.”