Providence Catholic holds off Benet to become playoff-eligible

Providence Catholic's Leo Slepski

NEW LENOX — The roster handed out before Providence Catholic’s game Friday night against Benet Academy did not have a No. 20 listed on it.

That’s because No. 20 was freshman Jaylen McMiller, who made as big a mark on the game as anyone in the Celtics’ 35-28 win over the Redwings. The win gave Providence its fifth win of the season and made the team playoff-eligible. Last season, Providence also finished the regular season at 5-4 and advanced to the Class 4A state championship game.

Midway through the second quarter, Providence held a 14-7 lead, but Benet was driving. On 3rd and 13 from the Celtics’ 16, Benet quarterback Ryan Kubacki lofted a pass to the end zone, but McMiller leaped high to intercept it. On Providence’s first play, quarterback Leo Slepski (9 of 14, 192 yards, 3 TDs) hit Mitch Voltz with an 80-yard touchdown pass to put the Celtics ahead 21-7. Then, on Benet’s first play after the kickoff, McMiller intercepted another pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown for a 28-7 Providence lead.

“This is my fourth or fifth game with the varsity,” McMiller said. “On the pick-6, I saw the ball in the air and I knew it was mine. I got it and saw nothing but green in front of me. It really turned the game around.

“I have been wanting to make a name for myself and contribute to a win. I am glad that happened tonight.”

Slepski was on the same page with coach Tyler Plantz when the play call for the long pass after McMiller’s interception came in.

“That was exactly the play we all wanted to run,” Slepski said. “Jaylen stepped up and we wanted to capitalize on it. Then, after his pick-6, we had a three-score lead and that settled down our nerves.

“We have everything we need to be successful. We need to put it all together. I think we have a good shot of doing that in the playoffs.”

Slepski, a sophomore, was brilliant in the first half, completing 8 of 10 passes for 174 yards and all three of his touchdowns. His first two went to Alex Gibson, one for six yards and another for 26.

“This was a win by committee,” Plantz said. “We had a lot of guys step up tonight, some of them freshmen and sophomores. It’s been exciting to watch these guys learn and understand the game, and we are peaking at the right time.

“Those interceptions by Jaylen and the long touchdown by Leo and Mitch were a huge momentum shift. We went from almost being tied to being up three scores in a short amount of time.”

Benet (4-5) took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on eight plays, ending with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Kubacki to Charlie Kane for a 7-0 lead. Providence answered with an eight-play, 62-yard drive, with Slepski hitting Gibson from six yards out to tie the score. The Celtics forced a punt, and then drove 36 yards on five plays, with Slepski hitting Gibson from 26 yards out on the first play of the second quarter. Benet then drove inside the Celtics’ red zone before McMiller made his first pick.

“Those interceptions and scores were big momentum shifts,” Benet coach Pat New said. “But our guys were gutsy and scrappy. It was great to see them not give up and put up a great fight at the end. It’s exciting for next year with all the sophomores and juniors we had playing this year. We have a lot to look forward to.”

Benet scored just before halftime on a six-yard pass from Kubacki to Martin Radgowski to make it 28-14 at the break. Providence got a five-yard touchdown run from Michael Dilworth to go ahead 35-14 with 9:19 to play, but the Redwings weren’t done. They got a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kubacki (19 of 31, 263 yards, 2 TDs) to Rocky Rosanova to make it 35-21 with 2:24 to play. Then, after forcing a Providence three-and-out, they took over at their own 19. Two pass interference penalties and a 50-yard pass to Rosanova (8 catches, 153 yards) got it to the Celtics’ 1, and Kubacki scored from there to make it 35-28. Providence recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

“We just wanted to get in the playoffs,” Plantz said. “We will be well-tested from playing in the Catholic League. That’s nine weeks of basically playoff-type football. We are ready to compete every week, and we will be ready for the playoffs.”