CHICAGO— For one half of football Saturday afternoon, the Hononegah Indians did just about everything right.
Facing a heavily favored Chicago St. Rita squad, the Indians mostly held all-everything WR Kaleb Brown in check.
They moved the ball offensively, picking up key third and fourth down conversions, and stuffed the Mustangs running game.
The 10-7 lead the Indians carried into intermission had them thinking upset, with a trip to the IHSA Class 7A semifinals for the first time since 1996.
St. Rita, however, had different ideas. Brown got going. The Indians stopped moving the football, and the Mustangs pulled away for a 36-16 victory.
The Indians finished their most successful season in a quarter-century with an 11-1 record.
“The loss hurts,” Hononegah senior Dylan Sayles said. “But I’ll remember the 11 wins a lot more than I’ll remember this loss. We had a great season all-around. These guys were great to play with.”
It looked as if the game would go to script when St. Rita traversed the field in just five plays on the opening drive of the game, scoring when Brown, headed to Ohio State next year, out-leaped a Hononegah defender in the corner of the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown pass.
The Indians, however, refused to fold. After getting a stop on the Mustangs’ next possession, Hononegah blocked a punt at midfield. Bryce Goodwine caught a pass on a key fourth-and-12 to keep the drive moving, and eventually kicked a 33-yard field goal to cut the margin to 7-3.
As the Indians defense continued to turn away St. Rita, Hononegah got moving offensively, scoring on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Whisenand to Stuart Hale to give the Indians a 10-7 lead.
Both teams missed 45-yard field goals in the final minutes of the first half, and the Indians were 24 minutes away from a stunning upset.
“We were definitely feeling good at halftime,” Sayles said. “Coming into the game, we knew we could play with them. No one else probably did, but we knew we could. We saw their film, and we attacked their weaknesses. We did everything we could in the first half, we just let it slip away in the second half.”
The second half started much like the first, with St. Rita scoring on a pass from quarterback Tommy Ulatowski to Brown, this time covering 47 yards.
After being pinned deep, Whisenand recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a safety and a 16-10 St. Rita lead.
The Indians had one last chance to get back in the game when, on the ensuring possession, Brigham Molander recovered a St. Rita fumble and rumbled all the way down to the Mustang 25.
After picking up one first down, Whisenand was picked off in the end zone. Two plays later, Ulatowski (heading to Creighton on a baseball scholarship) showed off his wheels by streaking 72 yards for the touchdown that essentially sealed the game late in the third quarter.
After Brown caught his third touchdown of the game, a circus one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone, the Indians capped the scoring on the final play of the season when Hale caught a pass, lateraled it to Goodwine, who dove into the end zone as the Indians capped a terrific campaign.
“I can’t say enough about this team,” Hononegah coach Brian Zimmerman said. “I’m so proud of them. They worked their butts off all season. St. Rita, they’ve got all of Chicago to draw from. We have Rockton and Roscoe. We hung with them for a long time, but their big-time playmakers came through for them.’
St. Rita will take on Prospect for the right to advance to the state title game.
• Saturday’s boxscore:
ST RITA 36, HONONEGAH 16
Hononegah 3 7 0 6 —16
St. Rita 7 0 15 14—36
SCORING SUMMARY: SR: Brown, 7 pass from Ulatowski (kick good); H, Goodwine, 23 kick; H, Hale, 35 pass from Whisenand (kick good); SR, Brown, 47 pass from Ulatowski (kick good); SR: Safety, Whisenand tackled in end zone; SR: Ulatowski, 72 run (Pass failed); SR: Nwagwu, 24 pass from Ulatowski (kick good); SR: Brown, 6 pass from Ulatowski (kick good); H: Goodwine, 15 pass from Whisenand.
TEAM STATS: Total offense: H 215, SR 440; Rushing: H 25-51, SR 34-167; Passing: H 32-17-2, 164 yds; SR: 30-22-0, 273 yds; Penalties: H 6-50, SR 8-65; Fumbles-lost: H 0-0, SR 1-1; Punts: H 5-35.0, SR 5-28.4; First downs: H 12, SR 19.
INDIVIDUAL LEADERS: Passing: H, Whisenand 30-17-1, 164 yds, 2 TD; SR, Ulatowski 30-22-0, 4 TD’s, 273 yds; Rushing: H, Sayles 3-48; Hale 10-18; SR, Ulatowski 6-103, Stewart 7-37; Receiving: H, Goodwine 6-54, Hale 4-40, Emanuel 4-26; SR: Brown, 7-116; Hall 6-73.