aIt took a defensive stop in the final minute and half, a gutsy fourth down call in the fourth quarter and a three touchdown catches from Dean Zigulich for Riverside Brookfield High School to pull out a 19-18 win in the season opener Friday evening at Morton.
A host of Bulldogs stopped powerful 6-foot-2, 240-pound Morton fullback Darin Gibson short of the goal line on a two-point conversion after Morton scored with 1:18 left in the game to pull to within one point. After two failed extra point attempts, Morton coach Bob Organ decided to go for the win with the two-point conversion. Instead of giving the ball to quick tailback Greg Hoard III, who had just scored and gashed the Bulldogs for 153 yards on 21 carries, Organ went with Gibson, his short yardage specialist. Gibson had scored the Mustangs two previous touchdowns on one yard runs.
But this time the interior of the Bulldog defense led by nose tackle Edwin Rios smothered Gibson short of the end zone to preserve the win.
“That was a tremendous play,” said RBHS head coach Brendan Curtin. “The kids obviously knew what was at stake and they rose up to the occasion.”
The gutsy call came with RBHS (1-0) faced a fourth and one from their own 43 yard line with 8:39 left in the game and scored tied at 12. After first considering a power run the Curtin changed his mind and called a halfback option pass. Quarterback Ryan Swift tossed the ball to Proviso West transfer Al’lan Carter for what looked like a sweep. But after taking a few steps Carter, who played some quarterback at Proviso West, stopped and threw a perfect pass to Zigulich for a 28 yard gain and a key first down.
“It’s a play we’ve been working on for a while,” Curtin said. “Al’lan Carter has a nice live arm. He’s a good athlete so nothing really fazes him too much. They executed it perfectly.”
Zigulich, who had a monster game with 12 catches for 116 yards and touchdown receptions of 4, 12 and 13 yards, had noticed something in the first half that convinced him the halfback option play would work.
“At halftime I went up to coach Mike Donato and I said the corner’s biting really hard on all the sweeps so in the back of our mind we can have that play,” Zigulich said.
Zigulich put the Bulldogs ahead when he caught his third touchdown pass of the night from Swift, this one a 13-yard reception with 5:47 left in the game.
“Swift just threw the ball up and I went and got it,” Zigulich said. “The cornerback was facing me and I just jumped over him and got the ball.”
After the touchdown, RBHS kicker Emilio Solano kicked the extra point that provided the winning margin.
Zigulich had scored in the first quarter on a 4-yard pass after Zach Witken blocked a Morton punt.
Zigulich put RBHS ahead 12-6 when he grabbed a 12-yard pass from Swift with just 0.2 seconds left in the first half.
In addition to being the focal point of the RBHS offense Zigulich played defensive back the entire game, punted and held on extra points and a field goal attempt.
“He never really left the field,” Curtin said. “He’s the kind of kid that never really sits still. He’s always going 110 miles an hour and he never really seems to tire. He seems to thrive in those situations when he’s asked to do a lot.”
Swift completed 16 of 24 passes for three touchdowns on a night when RBHS could only gain 26 yards on the ground.
“We certainly got the result that we were striving for, but there is a lot for us to work on,” Curtin said. “You know your program is on the uptick when you find a way to pull games out like that.”
Zigulich, a three-year starter, said it was probably the most exciting game in his high school career.
“I love nail biters,” Zigulich said. “We worked hard and I think we really deserved this win. Our line really stepped it up in some clutch situations.”