Big plays on offense and defense were the key to the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team’s first playoff win in more than a decade as the Bulldogs beat a tough St. Ignatius team 28-13 Friday night at the Kennelly Athletic Complex.
The Class 6A first round win was the Bulldogs’ first one in the postseason since 2004 when RBHS beat Rich East 22-12.
“We’ve been waiting for a playoff win forever,” junior Ja’Mari Wise said. “Last year we fell short.”
Wise got the RBHS offense going after the defense made a key fourth down stop at the seven yard line to stop a methodical St. Ignatius (5-5) drive to open the game.
“That was huge,” said senior linebacker David Pribyl Pierdinock of the fourth down stop. “It really kind of built up our defensive confidence for the rest of the game and led to some bigger plays.”
Wise gained six yards on the Bulldogs’ first offensive play from scrimmage and then caught a 50-yard pass from Ryan Swift that he almost broke for a touchdown to move the ball into St. Ignatius territory. A 32-yard swing pass to Al’lon Carter put the ball on the five and Carter ran the ball in on the next play for the first of his two touchdowns to open the scoring.
“He’s obviously an electrifying athlete and he’s very fast, has good vision,” said RBHS head coach Brendan Curtin of Wise. “He’s just a very special athlete so we’re trying to use him in every capacity that we can.”
On St. Ignatius’ second possession RBHS linebacker Joey Swallow pounced on an errant pitch at the Wolfpack 28 yard line. Two plays later, Swift (18 of 23 for 273 yards and two touchdowns) connected with Wise on a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Bulldogs ahead 14-0.
St. Ignatius cut the deficit to 14-7 when Daniel McMahon, who went to St. Mary’s School in Riverside, scored on a 13-yard run midway through the second quarter.
But after a Dean Zigulich punt pinned St. Ignatius back on its own one yard line the RBHS defense held and forced the Wolfpack to punt. The Bulldogs (9-1) took advantage of a short field and drove 37 yards to score on a two-yard run by Carter.
The Bulldogs marched 70 yards on the opening drive of the second half to go up 28-7 on Swift’s five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Sam Falk.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Luke Soenen got behind the RBHS defense and caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Coolidge to cut the margin to 28-13.
Zigulich made an interception in the end zone with 1:15 left in the game to ice the victory.
The win was the Bulldogs’ ninth of the season; the most by RBHS since the Tim Brasic-led 2001 Bulldogs went 11-1. Friday night’s win at home in the playoffs was especially sweet.
“Nine wins, that’s pretty special,” Curtin said.
Hard work was the key Pribyl Pierdinock said while celebrating the playoff win.
“It’s huge and obviously it’s a great feeling, but it has come from a lot of behind the scenes hard work that isn’t so obvious to just your average fan,” said Pribyl Pierdinock, who along with Swift and Zigulich has played on varsity for three years. “The guys in this room have just put in a ton of work and clearly it’s paid off. They’ve earned it. We’ve all earned it.
“Back when I started there wasn’t a lot of leadership on the team, wasn’t a lot of guys you could really look up to and then we just kind of built the culture of the team. We built it on hard work and a hard off season and it’s paid off.”
St. Ignatius’ triple option ground attack moved the ball well in the first half and the Wolfpack had more first downs in the game than the Bulldogs, 17 to 13, but RBHS improved defensively as the game went on.
“We switched up our defense from what we normally run so it took a little while to get used to them in the first half,” said Pribyl Pierdinock, “but once we were getting used to it we were really shutting them down and we were making big plays.”
RBHS (9-1) will host Grayslake North (7-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. The Knights routed Hubbard 47-8 in first round action last week.