Brother Rice students and fans stormed the field shortly after the Crusaders’ 14-3 victory Saturday against host Marist. They huddled around the players, lifting a few in the air.
Yes, Brother Rice (13-0) punched its ticket to the Class 8A championship game next weekend. And, yes, the Crusaders kept their record unblemished. But what made the victory so sweet for Brother Rice was beating its archrival. The schools are located two miles from each other.
‘‘There’s been a lot of hype during the week,’’ Crusaders defensive lineman Justin Jefferson said. ‘‘And we’re just glad we got the win, and now we’re going to state.’’
The RedHawks appeared to be picking up momentum early in the game. But that quickly disappeared after starting quarterback Michael Markett temporarily left the game.
Markett returned for the second half, but Brother Rice’s defense showed little mercy. Marist (11-2) didn’t convert any of its last eight third-down opportunities.
‘‘We put ourselves in some pretty good positions, but we just couldn’t convert when we had those opportunities,’’ RedHawks coach Ron Dawczak said. ‘‘I just tip my hat to Brother Rice’s defense. They made it tough on us all day, obviously. We only scored three points.’’
Crusaders coach Brian Badke said he and his staff put an emphasis on shutting down Marist’s offense.
‘‘Defense has been our backbone all year, and if they can’t score, they can’t win,’’ Badke said. ‘‘Our guys had a great effort today, and they proved that they’re one of the best defenses in the state of Illinois.’’
One player who stood out was Jefferson, who had three sacks to raise his season total to nine.
‘‘It’s a team effort first, but I just came in and treated it like any other game,’’ Jefferson said. ‘‘I lead by example, but the hype on defense is contagious.’’
Jefferson said it was evident the RedHawks were struggling.
‘‘We saw it in their faces,’’ Jefferson said. ‘‘They started to give up.’’
Brother Rice’s offense wasn’t great, but it was good enough. The Crusaders were led by quarterback John Bean, who threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, a 13-yarder to David O’Keefe and a 75-yarder to Anthony Arquilla.
‘‘Our game plan was to not make anything too fancy and to stick with what we know how to do and run the ball,’’ Bean said.
Brother Rice, which will play Loyola in the Class 8A title game Saturday in Champaign, knows what it’s like to feel as though its back is against the wall. The Crusaders went 2-7 in 2017 in a season plagued by injuries and inexperience.
‘‘The whole team had adversity,’’ said Bean, who broke his hand in Week 7 last season and missed the rest of the games. ‘‘But we came back as a group, and we knew what we had to do.’’
‘‘We learned from it,’’ Badke said. ‘‘[The players] were really motivated in the offseason. . . . Now we’re on our way down I-57 to Champaign.’’