‘They wanted to make a statement’ Geneva’s gallant effort comes up short against St. Rita

Geneva's Tommy Diamond (37) tackles St. Rita's Tommy Ulatowski (16) in the backfield for loss during a 7A state football playoff game at Geneva High School on Friday, Nov 5, 2021.

GENEVA – Geneva knew there weren’t many people giving the Vikings a chance.

As the host Vikings took the field Nov. 5 against St. Rita in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, there always was belief in their locker room.

Led by a stellar defensive effort, Geneva held St. Rita to just three first-half points, but in the end, the Vikings just didn’t have enough against the talented opposition. St. Rita used a couple of big plays in the second half for a 28-7 victory in a game that finished lopsided but didn’t tell the entire story.

“They fought, they clawed and they did absolutely everything we could have asked from them,” Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen said of his defense. “They wanted to make a statement and prove that it wouldn’t be easy to win a second-round playoff game against us on this field.”

St. Rita (9-2) was able to muster only 55 yards of total offense before the break – Geneva had 65 – and got its only points of the first two quarters on a 40-yard field goal from Conor Talty.

The field goal came after St. Rita blocked a Geneva punt to start a drive in prime scoring position at the Geneva 18-yard line.

St. Rita's Ethan Middleton (84) carries the ball against Geneva during a 7A state football playoff game at Geneva High School on Friday, Nov 5, 2021.

The Vikings defense bent, but didn’t break for most of the first half, increasing its belief in itself in the locker room at halftime.

“I think we [legitimately] went into the locker room and believed that we could win this game,” Geneva senior linebacker Mac Happold said. “I just think as the season went on, there was continued belief within this group. There were people saying we’d go 0-9 this year and look where we ended up. I think it says a lot about how far we came not only as a defense but as a team.”

Happold and fellow senior Blake Stempowski, who led the charge for the Geneva defense for most of the season, got a big boost from Tommy Diamond. The sophomore, who was called up for the postseason, had two first-half sacks and was in the St. Rita backfield early and often Nov. 5.

After the halftime break, St. Rita matched its entire first-half yardage total on one quick play. A 55-yard scamper by Ethan Middleton down to the Geneva 1-yard line set up the first of two rushing touchdowns for quarterback Tommy Ulatowski.

That was the first of four scoring drives for the Mustangs after halftime, capped by Ulatowski’s second score from two yards out to seal the victory in the final minutes.

“That was our goal to get it to be a game in the second half,” Thorgesen said. “I think we gave ourselves a chance, but put ourselves in too big of a hole offensively. The kids kept fighting and just came up [short] against an extremely solid football team in St. Rita.”

The Mustangs got a boost from the return of running back/wide receiver Kaleb Brown. The Ohio State commit, who missed nearly all of his senior season because of a leg injury suffered in Week 1, returned to the field Nov. 5.

“It felt great to be back out there doing what I love to do,” said Brown, who finished with three catches for 46 yards, a rushing touchdown and a 2-point conversion reception. “We just needed to play our game and take what they give us. That was it honestly.”

While St. Rita celebrated, Geneva got a taste of the postseason success it had sought the past several seasons. Sophomore running back Nate Stempowski found Jackson Reyes on an option pass with 7:32 to go to cut the deficit to 21-7, but the Vikings couldn’t muster a comeback.

Thorgesen said this season was without question a step in the right direction.

“Every game was a battle,” Thorgesen said. “We knew that if you get to the second round of the playoffs, you’re going to get the experience of playing a really good football team and we got that tonight. … We were there, had a chance and that’s all to the credit of the heart, fight and pride that these kids played with for this program.”

Tyler Tuisl finished his Geneva career on a high note with seven catches for 121 yards.