RIVERSIDE – While undefeated St. Francis has a prolific offense, its defense also has a nose for the football.
“Everyone on defense, we work together,” senior defensive end Joey Ayala said. “We make our checks correctly. Everyone’s going to the ball. We swarm. Flies on poop.”
After the Spartans scored on their first two possessions Oct. 14, it was the defense that swarmed to stop inspired host Riverside-Brookfield before the Spartans pulled away 35-14 in the showdown of the Metro Suburban Conference Red leaders.
For the seventh straight week, St. Francis (8-0, 4-0 MSC Red) scored at least 35 points while allowing no more than two opponent scores.
The victory secured the MSC Red championship in the Spartans’ final year as part of the conference. They hope to beat rival IC Catholic Prep for the fourth straight year to secure an undefeated regular season.
“It’s always nice to win the conference. These guys work their tails off,” St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. “Hats off to R-B. They played really hard tonight. But it’s always nice leaving the Metro for the last time and winning the conference, going out as champions.”
Leading 14-7, St. Francis opened the second half against R-B (5-3, 4-1) just like it did in the first half. The Spartans scored on their first two possessions to open a 28-7 advantage.
Brady Piper scored on a 2-yard run after a 21-yard gain on the previous play and quarterback Alessio Milvojevic found Dash Dorsey for a 4-yard TD pass. Milvojevic found Dorsey for a 28-yard TD pass with 5:26 left for the game’s final score – their third TD connection on the night.
“We have to start how we start in the second half every game,” said Milvojevic, who passed for 183 yards. “We’ve just got to change.”
One problem was 12 penalties for 100 yards, mostly for holding or encroachment.
“With the weather change, I thought we ran the ball well coming out. We got hurt with a lot of big penalties in the first half,” McMillen said. “It seemed like every time we had a big play, we had a penalty. We’ve got to clean stuff up. We’ve got to be more disciplined.”
Milvojevic scored the Spartans’ first TD on a 1-yard run and then hit Dorsey on a 50-yard bomb.
R-B answered as quarterback Diego Gutierrez executed a play-action pass beautifully and found Luke Kumiskis wide open over the middle, turning their 10-yard strike into a 74-yard TD play.
Less than five minutes before halftime, the Bulldogs threatened to tie the game but the Spartans stuffed them on fourth-and-1 at the 4. St. Francis ran out the remaining 4:11, missing a 45-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.
Earlier in the first quarter, Gutierrez scrambled 53 yards to the St. Francis 14. The Bulldogs reached the 12 and then missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt.
“We’ve been working on it all week, practicing hard, just never giving up,” Ayala said. “On the field, we hit it and we make it work.”
Dorsey had seven catches for 122 yards and Amari Head (121 yards) and Piper (113) both rushed for more than 100 yards.
Gutierrez passed for 230 yards with most of them going to Iggy Bielobradek (five catches, 106 yards), who had a beautiful 15-yard TD catch in coverage in the third quarter, and Kumskis (four catches, 111 yards). Gutierrez also rushed for 66 yards.
The Bulldogs also had big defensive plays. Drew Swiatek’s midfield interception in the second quarter came two plays after Head’s 61-yard TD run was nullified by a holding penalty. The Spartans’ missed field goal followed Chris Brown breaking up an end zone pass.
“We had a great first half. The guys knew they had to come out and fight the entire time and we did,” R-B coach Sam Styler said. “A couple of big plays here, a couple of drops, had a couple of key plays. If we come up with those, it could have been a different ball game. But still proud of my guys the way they fought.”