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St. Rita leans on ‘D’ and special teams in win over Providence

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By Steve Millar 
Correspondent

After a first half that was mostly a disaster for St. Rita on a cold and rainy Friday night, a couple big plays on special teams and defense gave the Mustangs’ offense the belief they could rally.

Junior quarterback Jett Hilding scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, both on 1-yard quarterback sneaks, and St. Rita shook off a nine-point halftime deficit by pitching a second-half shutout in a 26-16 win over host Providence in a CCL/ESCC crossover Oct. 14.

“It was definitely a bad first half,” Hilding said. “Our defense and special teams helped us a ton. We’re getting short fields most of the time.

“Momentum is a huge part of the game. That’s something we didn’t have in the first half, and once we started getting it in the second half we started rolling as a unit.”

Mustangs coach Todd Kuska felt fortunate his team was still within striking distance going into the second half.

“I told our guys that it was a chance to band together, stay the course and believe in who we are,” Kuska said. “Things couldn’t have gone much worse for us in the first half on offense, defense, special teams. In the second half, it wasn’t pretty, but we made the proper corrections and got the job done.”

St. Rita (6-2) recorded two safeties in the game, while Providence (4-4) scored on one.

DJ Stewart ran for 89 yards on 16 carries for the Mustangs, who got big sacks from Pat Carmody and Illinois recruit Pat Farrell.

BJ Olson blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, and Lucas Proudfoot threw a 38-yard TD pass to Jack Tess for Providence. Jamari Tribett ran for 92 yards on 21 carries.

The Celtics’ safety came on one of the weirdest plays those in attendance might ever see. They were attempting a field goal midway through the second quarter, but the snap was high. Providence kicker Sean Sample picked up the ball and attempted a pass into the end zone, where it was intercepted by Jack Clark.

Clark, hesitant on his decision to return the ball out of the end zone or take the touchback, stepped out to the 1-yard line then back into the end zone before downing the ball, resulting in a safety. That gave Providence a 16-7 halftime lead.

St. Rita’s only first-half points came on an 87-yard punt return touchdown from sophomore Keyandre White. The Mustangs had zero yards of offense in the opening half.

But they began to rally behind, of all things, back-to-back safeties.

On the first, Providence snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone on a punt attempt to cut the lead to 16-9.

The Mustangs’ offense stalled on their next possession, but Alabama recruit Conor Talty hit a booming punt and St. Rita was able to down the ball inside the 1-yard line.

That led to senior linebacker Matt Kingsbury making a huge play, breaking through the line to tackle a Providence running back in the end zone for another safety to make it 16-11.

“In that situation, we were looking to make a big play,” Kingsbury said. “We just wanted to make something happen to help us win this game.”

A botched Providence punt gave St. Rita the ball at the Celtics’ 18-yard line early in the fourth quarter, and Hilding ended up plowing in from 1 yard. Hilding also ran in the 2-point conversion to give St. Rita a 19-16 lead.

Hilding put the capper on the win when he scored on another 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:10 to play.

Stewart had big runs to set up Hilding’s touchdowns and the Mustangs’ offensive line paved the way to the team’s fifth win in a row.

“We’ve got a pretty senior-laden offensive line and we feel really confident with that,” Kuska said. “Jett knows how to squeak through there and that’s when we have faith in those big guys up front.”

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