By Bob Skolnik
It was a loss, but in many ways the performance of the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team on Oct. 25 in their final game of the regular season was perhaps their best effort of the season.
RBHS was just eight yards away from scoring a potentially game-tying touchdown before falling short 28-13 loss to four-time defending state champion Immaculate Conception on the Bulldogs' home field.
"I'm proud of the way we played at times throughout the course of the game," said RBHS head coach Brendan Curtin. "I thought we played some really good football. I thought there were other times when the kids were kind of letting the magnitude of the moment supersede the fulfillment of the game, but for the most part we made some plays and we went toe to toe with one of the best programs in the state of Illinois. There's no moral victories, but we can certainly learn from this and build off it."
Despite the loss, RBHS (6-3, 3-3) qualified for the state playoffs and were seeded 10th in Class 6A with a first-round game scheduled for this weekend against Kenwood Academy.
Down 21-13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs took over at their own 37-yard line with 5:46 left in the game and drove to the IC 8-yard line looking to score a potentially game-tying touchdown (with a two-point conversion).
Two straight completions from quarterback Matthew Torres to sophomore Owen Murphy (nine catches for 111 yards) started off the drive. On fourth-and-1 from the IC 15, Torres hit Daniel Hillyer for a four-yard completion and a first down.
On the next play, Torres scrambled for three yards to move the ball down to the IC 8-yard line. A costly illegal procedure penalty moved the ball back to the 13-yard line and that is where the Bulldogs stalled.
On second down, IC linebacker Kevin Cooke tipped away a pass from Torres. On third and fourth downs, Torres tried to connect with Murphy, but the sophomore, who was switched to wide receiver this year after Torres beat him out for the starting quarterback job, couldn't haul in the passes in heavy traffic while being hit hard and the Bulldogs were turned away.
IC running back Kyle Franklin then sealed the game when he burst through the RBHS line for an 87-yard touchdown run with 2:36 to go. It was Franklin's second long touchdown run of the game.
He started the scoring with a 57-yard touchdown scamper with 7:33 left in the first quarter and finished the game with 269 yards rushing on 24 carries.
"That kid got some wheels," Curtin said. "There's no doubt it. All he needs is a crack and he's gone."
Curtin knew that to move against a big and rugged IC defense he would have to throw the ball, so the Bulldogs only ran the ball seven times in the entire game. Forsaking the run paid off as the Bulldogs moved the ball throughout the game with their short passing game. Torres completed 26 passes in 52 attempts for 248 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
Senior Luke Gentile caught both of Torres' touchdown passes. The first came on the last play of the first half when the 6-foot Gentile leaped high in the right corner of the end zone to snag a 28-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.
"It was just a go, but I kind of game him a stutter and got on top on him and then Torres threw a good ball in the back of the end zone that only I could have gotten, so props to him," Gentile said.
Two third-quarter running touchdowns by IC quarterback Danny Cronin put the Knights ahead 21-7 before Torres again hooked up with Gentile (five catches for 66 yards) for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 7:39 left in the fourth quarter to pull the Bulldogs within one score.
RBHS finished fourth in the Metro Suburban Blue Conference with a 3-3 conference record. IC (8-1, 5-1) finished second in the conference behind conference champion Wheaton-St. Francis, who defeated the Knights 20-19 on Oct. 18.
RBHS has only defeated one team this year with a winning a record, Aurora Christian, which finished 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the conference. Close wins over Aurora Christian and Wheaton Academy were key in putting the Bulldogs into the playoffs.
Playing IC tough, after allowing 56 and 59 points in losses to Bishop McNamara and St. Francis, gives the Bulldogs a lot of confidence going into the playoffs.
"We knew that if we could go toe to toe with this team, we could go toe to toe with anyone in the playoffs," said RBHS offensive tackle Rahim Kouferidji.