Riverside-Brookfield High School running back Ryan Novak (22) carries the ball for some his 94 yards rushing on Sept. 24 against St. Edward. Novak scored four touchdowns during the Bulldogs’ 35-17 win. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

Like most coaches, Riverside-Brookfield High School football coach Brendan Curtin likes to preach taking the season one game at time. But Curtin knew that Friday night’s homecoming game against Elgin St. Edward was a key game to win if the Bulldogs want to make the postseason playoffs. 

Junior running back and linebacker Ryan Novak got the message and led the Bulldogs to victory, rushing for four touchdowns as RBHS defeated St. Edward 35-17 to remain atop the Metro Suburban Red Conference standings.

“Coach basically called it the Super Bowl for us,” Novak said. “It’s probably our biggest win yet of the season and we look to do the same thing next week.”

The win was vital because after their next game against winless Westmont, the Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0) finish the season against three traditionally strong football teams in Immaculate Conception, Wheaton-St. Francis and Bishop McNamara.

Since getting shut out by Wauconda in the second game of the season, the Bulldogs have adjusted their offensive emphasis. With wideout Matt Novak, who was in uniform but did not play due to a leg injury, and Owen Murphy still busy playing baseball, the Bulldogs decided to emphasize the running game. 

Often running out an I formation and running behind an offensive line that features two sophomore starters, the strong and elusive Ryan Novak rambled for touchdown runs of three, two, three and 21 yards. His final two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter broke open a close game.

St. Edward (2-3, 1-1), which had to forfeit last week’s game due to COVID-19 protocols, has only 29 players on its varsity roster, so the Bulldogs felt they could wear them down.

“Our new game plan is to just to establish the run, just pound it down their throat every time, make them tired,” said Novak who ran for 94 yards on 18 carries.

After giving up 17 points in the second quarter to trail 17-14 at the half, the Bulldogs shut out St. Edward in the second half. 

Novak, who also plays linebacker in the Bulldogs 4-2 defense, helped shut down the St. Edward ground game in the second half. 

“He’s a phenomenal football player,” Curtin said of Novak. “He’s like old school, a throwback, three-way, offense, defense, special teams. Like last week out of 154 plays I think he played 152. He’s just a tough kid who loves football; a high performing athlete.”

A fumble recovery by linebacker Petar Sofeski in the third quarter turned the tide of the game as RBHS marched 26 yards to score to take the lead 21-17.

Novak put the game away with a weaving, cutback 21-yard touchdown run with 3:50 left in the game. He doesn’t mind playing offense, defense, and special teams.

“It gets tiring at times, but I love to hit and I love to get hit,” Novak said.

Senior quarterback T.J. Sloan, who took the majority of the snaps at quarterback, played an efficient game completing 7 of 11 passes for 84 yards and one touchdown. 

Sloan connected with sophomore wide receiver Anthony Petrucci for a 21-yard touchdown pass across the middle with 1:17 left in the second quarter to tie the game 14-14.

Petrucci, who was promoted to the varsity after the first game of the season, had a big game, hauling in six passes for 51 yards. Petrucci has had the tough task of replacing Matt Novak in the Bulldogs offense.

“It’s hard,” Petrucci said. “He’s a big part of our team. He’s good.”

Getting used to playing on varsity has been an adjustment for Petrucci.

“It’s a lot different from sophomore [football], Petrucci said. “Sophomore, they’re all smaller, they don’t hit as hard. To take that big leap, it’s a lot of hitting, it’s a lot more physical. You’ve got to get used to it quick.”

After the game Curtin acknowledged the importance of the win.

“We’re all focused and locked in on the moment, but we know what’s coming down the road and we’re taking it one week at a time,” Curtin said.