CCL/ESCC notes: St. Rita’s well-rounded offense ready for tough test against Wheaton North

St. Rita showed it can score points in any fashion when it beat Prospect in the Class 7A semifinals on Saturday.

The Mustangs used defense to score two touchdowns in their 42-20 win over the Knights while also scoring on running plays to build a 35-7 lead at the half.

No matter how it does it, St. Rita players find a way to score, becoming one of the best offenses coach Todd Kuska has seen at his time at the school.

“We’ve got a lot of options, we’ve got a lot of weapons where we can spread the ball out,” Kuska said of his team’s offense. “It ranks up there pretty high.”

St. Rita has averaged 37 points in its four playoff games and has found different ways to do it. The offense has established the line of scrimmage in many of its games, which has allowed the run game to open up, which in turn has allowed quarterback Tommy Ulatowski to take shots down the field.

Many of the chances have come from strong defense, with either the offense taking over with a short field to go or the defense scoring on its own turnovers. The Mustangs offense has shown that it can take advantage of those chances presented from the defense, which only makes the team stronger.

“It’s great,” Kuska said. “It gives our guys confidence that we can put points on the board. It gives our defense more confidence that if they do turn it over for us, we’re able to take advantage of that. It’s a confidence boost for everybody.”

The Mustangs know they’ll face a tough Wheaton North defense in the title game. The Falcons have limited their playoff opponents to 9.5 points per game in four games, including a shutout in their first game.

Kuska knows his team has the experience. St. Rita started then-sophomore Ulatowski and running back Kaleb Brown in the 2019 Class 7A state title game. That experience, plus some moments from this season make Kuska and his coaches confident that they can withstand anything that’s thrown at them.

“It taught our guys to stay the course and be patient, so what you’re supposed to do and good things are going to happen,” Kuska said. “The experience of that leadership, just playing within ourselves, that’s a big part of it.”

What a run

Loyola’s Class 8A semifinal loss to Lockport on Saturday ended an impressive run for the Ramblers.

The team finished 18-1 in the 2021 calendar after a 6-0 spring season and 12-1 fall season, which made Saturday’s loss a little easier to process.

“When you go 18-1 in a calendar year, with probably the hardest schedule in the state if you add the spring,” Loyola coach John Holecek said, “that’s a heck of an accomplishment.”

Loyola won the CCL/ESCC Blue in the spring after going 3-0 within the division. The Ramblers’ toughest test came in their first game against St. Rita, which they won 7-3.

The Ramblers built momentum into the summer and fall and powered to another division title and undefeated regular season. Unfortunately for the Ramblers, playing that many games in a calendar year caught up to them, with some of their key pieces being injured for their semifinal loss against Lockport, putting a cap to an impressive year.

“It’s a hell of a 19-game run for us,” Holecek said. “We worked our asses off.”

And then there were three

Three CCL/ESCC teams will play for a state title in DeKalb this weekend.

St. Rita, Fenwick and Joliet Catholic will represent the conference this weekend after some teams lost in the semifinals. The Mustangs will play for the Class 7A crown, Fenwick will play for the 5A title while the Hilltoppers play for 4A.

The conference had six teams playing in the semifinals this season. Loyola, Marist and Brother Rice all lost in the semifinals, squashing any dreams of an all-CCL/ESCC Class 7A and 8A title games.

Joliet Catholic takes on Sacred Heart-Griffin on Friday at 7 p.m. Fenwick battles Kankakee on Saturday at 10 a.m. while St. Rita will face Wheaton North on Saturday at 4 p.m.