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St. Rita's Ben Threloff scores a touchdown after recovering a blocked a Fenwick punt in the first quarter of their Catholic League semifinal Friday November 9, 2011 in Chicago. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
St. Rita is still alive in the Catholic League playoffs after downing visiting Fenwick 24-14 Friday at Doyle Stadium, thanks more to its defense than anything else.
St. Rita (7-5) advances to the championship game and will play the winner of Saturday’s Hales-Brother Rice semifinal next week. The winner of that game will play in the Prep Bowl Nov. 23.
The star of St. Rita’s defense was Mustang defensive back Lamar Dawson, who picked off Fenwick quarterback Gino Cavalieri three times. Dawson’s three interceptions are a season-high for him and give him seven interceptions for the season.
“The first one I was just watching the quarterback,” Dawson said. “The second one I just read the quarterback and I was just watching what he was doing, but the last one was a little tougher. It was a little farther back and I had to watch to see where (Cavalieri) was going.”
Dawson was surprised at Cavalieri’s strategy for most of the game, especially after the first interception.
“I was kind of shocked that he kept throwing it to my side,” Dawson said. “After I picked him off two times, I thought he wasn’t going to throw it my way anymore. But I wanted him to think that the receiver was open.”
Cavalieri was actually picked off four times, with Mustangs defensive back Ryan Price adding the final interception with 1:37 remaining in the game and Fenwick driving from the St. Rita 40.
The St. Rita defense also got themselves out of a jam early in the fourth quarter after the Mustangs fumbled the ball away to Fenwick.
The Friars, trailing 24-7, got the ball back on the St. Rita nine with about 8:30 to play in the game. Fenwick was able to push the ball down to the St. Rita two, but on fourth-and-goal Price batted down a Cavalieri pass in the end zone.
“I think our defense has played well at times and some of the times we’ve failed to get things done, but tonight we did a great job,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “Lamar had an excellent game and they put good pressure on the quarterback.”
The Mustangs’ defense even scored when outside linebacker Ben Threloff picked up a blocked punt and ran it in from four yards out, giving St. Rita a 14-7 lead with 22.6 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Fenwick (8-4) had a heartbreak game last week, losing in the second-round of the Class 7A playoffs to Rockford Boylan 21-20. The Friars lost in spectacular fashion, when Boylan ran back a punt 90 yards for a touchdown with no time left on the clock. The ensuing two-point conversion nailed down the victory for Boylan.
The Friars looked like they would atone for that loss when Robert Spillane scored on a 19-yard run with 2:05 to play in the first quarter. Fenwick led 7-0.
But St. Rita owned the rest of the first half. The Mustangs scored 21 unanswered points, highlighted by quarterback John Kelley’s two touchdown passes of 15 yards to Julian Crum and three yards to Tom McCormick.
Fenwick scored its second touchdown on Spillane’s 11-yard run with 2:31 to play in the game.