Just 2.9 seconds. That’s how close the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team came within of winning the Metro Suburban West championship in its inaugural season.
With the Bulldogs clinging to a three-point lead against Glenbard South on Friday night in Glen Ellyn, quarterback Kyle Carli threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jack Curtis with 2.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Raiders a 38-34 victory and conference title.
So how are the conference rivals rewarded for producing such an instant classic? They play each other, again, in the opening round of the Class 6A state playoffs.
Consider the Bulldogs and Raiders upcoming clash as the Déjà vu Bowl. “The battle along Butterfield Road.” It’s RBHS vs. Glenbard South Part II. Like most sequels, the teams’ upcoming playoff game will be hard-pressed to surpass the drama of their Week 9 meeting.
RBHS kicker Nick Fucinato nailed a 39-yard field goal with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter to put the Bulldogs up 34-31 against the Raiders. In fact, RBHS led most of the game. Other than their game-winning touchdown, the only other time Glenbard South led the Bulldogs was 6-0 in the first quarter.
RBHS led 17-14 at halftime and extended the lead to 24-14 in the third quarter on Brian Kulaga’s 31-yard run into the end zone.
Quarterback Ryan Swift turned in a terrific performance for the Bulldogs, completing 19 of 24 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. The junior signal caller tossed one touchdown pass to running back Matt Chapp and two more TDs to wide receiver Dean Zigulich.
Swift connected with Zigulich on a 12-yard pass play to put the Bulldogs on the board in the first quarter. Later in the opening quarter, Swift threw a 31-yard TD pass to Chapp. Kulaga finished with two rushing touchdowns and Fucinato converted a pair of field goals.
Bulldogs turn attention to 6A playoffs
If the players on RBHS knew before the season that they would finish 6-3 with a second-place showing in conference and a postseason berth, any reasonable Bulldog would welcome that solid body of work (especially after a couple of dismal campaigns in 2012 and 2013 which produced a 3-15 overall record).
With the playoffs opening this weekend, however, the Bulldogs understandably want more. Gaining a measure of revenge against Glenbard South would be an ideal start to the playoffs, but it won’t be easy.
The Raiders, who will host the Bulldogs again, feature several offensive threats in Carli, Curtis and Sean Cooke who caught two TD passes against RBHS.
The Bulldogs will counter with a fairly potent offense of their own, led by playmakers Chapp, Kulaga, Zigulich, Antone Dixon and a rapidly maturing Swift under center.
“Our goal is to go 1-0 every week, especially in the playoffs,” Swift said. “Hopefully, we’ll play well in the first game against Glenbard South and go from there.”
Defensively, RBHS has made tremendous progress this season. David Pribyl-Pierdinock, Jordan Petronella and Adolfo Linares all have a penchant for making big plays.
“People around school are having fun talking about the playoffs but we kind of have to ignore the noise,” Petronella said. “We have to concentrate on getting our work done on the field and everything else will take care of itself.”
If RBHS (6-3) defeats Glenbard South (7-2), the winner of Belvidere North vs. Lake Forest awaits in the second round.
Top-seeded Nazareth is also in the Bulldogs’ section of the draw. The Roadrunners are a popular pick to win 6A, with teams like Lemont, Lincoln-Way West, Richards, DeKalb and Peoria-Notre Dame pegged as contenders.