RBHS wide receiver Dean Zigulich was one of many seniors who played a key role in the Bulldogs' success this season. He had a team-high 72 receptions for RBHS (10-2). (File photo)

They called themselves the cavalry, and just like the cavalry at Little Big Horn, they went down fighting.

The best season for Riverside-Brookfield High School football since 2001 ended Saturday afternoon in Crystal Lake when second-seeded Prairie Ridge wore down the third-seeded Bulldogs in the second half en route to a 42-13 Class 6A quarterfinal victory.

In the first half RBHS (10-2) went toe-to-toe with the bigger Wolves, who came in averaging nearly 52 points with an offensive line averaging 254 pounds per man.

The Bulldogs nearly struck first on their third offensive play when quarterback Ryan Swift hit fleet junior Ja’Mari Wise on a third down pass over the middle that Wise grabbed and then raced into the end zone for what appeared to be a 61-yard scoring play. The touchdown was called back however when an official flagged an RBHS offensive lineman for an illegal chop block.

“It’s tough to play the shoulda, coulda, wouldas, but it’s certainly nice to strike first,” Curtin said when asked how badly that call hurt the Bulldogs. “It stung, it was painful. But that’s football. You try to persevere, you try and overcome those things and we struggled with that.”

The hard-hitting RBHS defense, which had not given up more than 21 points in a game all season until Saturday, kept the game close in the first half.

210-pound nose tackle Edwin Rios anchored the unit despite giving up 75 pounds to Prairie Ridge center Dereck Pearson. Rios and his fellow defensive linemen Frank Urbanski, Jacob Campbell and Michael Wilson clogged the middle and allowed linebackers Swift, Sam Falk and David Pribyl Pierdinock to make tackles. RBHS made the Wolves work for every yard in their triple option ground attack.

“He’s a little like the unsung hero,” Curtin said of Rios. “David Pribyl Pierdinock, everyone knows that name. David makes a lot of plays and a lot of tackles, but Edwin Rios is the guy up front that’s keeping some of those linemen off David.

“Football is the ultimate team sport and Edwin is the ultimate team player. He’s respected and admired by all his teammates and coaches. He’s just one of the many who put the time in and took it upon himself to make the program better.”

After holding Prairie Ridge scoreless in the first quarter, the Wolves got on the scoreboard when they scored the game’s first touchdown after Nicholas Greenberg made the first of his two interceptions of Swift. After the pick, Prairie Ridge (11-1) marched 47 yards in 10 plays to score on Cole Browns 11-yard run around right end with 7:11 left in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs struck back quickly on their next possession.

On third-and-10 from his own 20-yard line, Swift took advantage of Prairie Ridge’s tight coverage.  He lofted a bomb down the right sideline to speedy sophomore Stefan Giminski who had a step on his defender. Giminski, called up to the varsity for the playoffs, stretched to the limit of his 5-foot-7 frame and caught Swift’s pass in stride for an 80-yard TD reception.

After Giminski’s score, the Bulldog defense held Prairie Ridge to a three and out and the Bulldogs took over on their own 23.

Turnovers spell trouble for Bulldogs

Then came the play that changed the momentum of the game. Greenberg stepped in front of Wise and intercepted Swift again, this time racing 25 yards into the end zone to give Prairie Ridge a lead they would never relinquish.

Things went from bad to worse on the Bulldogs’ next possession. Swift was blindsided by blitzing linebacker Terrell Sheridan knocking the ball out of Swift’s hands and Prairie Ridge’s Jeff Jenkins recovered on the eight. Three plays later, Nathan Griffin barely squeezed into the end zone from the one to give Prairie Ridge a 21-7 halftime lead.

Prairie Ridge broke the game open in the third quarter when sophomore quarterback Samson Evans (27 carries, 162 yards) scored on a 50-yard run on Prairie Ridge’s first offensive play of the second half. Griffin (17 carries, 75 yards) scored again midway through the third quarter. Griffin scored a final time in the fourth quarter stretching the lead out to 42-7.

“They had a really good offense,” Pribyl Pierdinock said. “Their quarterback was a great player. We probably wore down a little bit. But they were throwing in some new plays, stuff we hadn’t really seen before. They were executing very well. They played a great game in the second half and really picked it up.”

RBHS junior linebacker Joey Swallow scooped up a fumble and raced 45 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring with 2:53 left in the game.

“I’m proud of the way we finished,” Curtin said. “The kids didn’t quit. They continued to fight until the clock read zeroes and that’s a message that we preach week in and week out. Just play RB football and keep fighting.”

Although Prairie Ridge didn’t complete a pass in limited attempts during the game, the Wolves piled up 300 yards rushing.

Conversely, RBHS couldn’t run at all, gaining a negative 21 yards rushing, a statistic marred by six sacks of Swift. Swift completed 12 of 30 pass attempts for 185 yards.

Dean Zigulich caught five passes for 44 yards. The senior standout finished with 72 catches on the season.

The Bulldogs received a plaque for making it to the quarterfinals for the first time since the 11-1 2001 team led by quarterback Tim Brasic. But they will treasure the memories and the friendships more than the plaque.

“It has meant so much to me,” Pribyl Pierdinock said. “This team, they have become my brothers over the past four years. Coming in as a freshman I had never played football before so it was huge just to be accepted by them with open arms and to work my up to become a captain. Just being with these guys every day has created some bonds that will never be broken. The brotherhood on this team is unreal; it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Pribyl Pierdinock was proud how far the Bulldogs went this year.

“It’s a huge achievement,” he said. “It’s even more meaningful because of all the hard work behind it. It didn’t just happen. We’ve had guys in the weight room every day and working out before school all offseason, for the past three, four years. All of it paid off and that’s just a great feeling, just knowing that it turned into something meaningful.”

It was emotional for Curtin to say goodbye to this year’s seniors. Along with Curtin, that class rebuilt the RBHS football program and set a high bar for future teams. The team had great senior leadership from Swift, Pribyl Pierdinock and Zigulich and other seniors such as Rios, Falk, Zach Witken and many others.

The Bulldogs also performed well all season, despite traveling to a different location every day to practice for the first half of the season.

“The senior class and I came in at the same time. They bought in to what we were doing,” Curtin said. “They bought in so much that they sold it to others, they sold it to guys younger than them