St. Rita quarterback Jett Hilding gains a chunk of his 66 rushing yards in the Mustangs' 42-21 win over Sandburg on Aug. 25. Photo by Jason Maholy

St. Rita quarterback Jett Hilding gains a chunk of his 66 rushing yards in the Mustangs' 42-21 win over Sandburg on Aug. 25. Photo by Jason Maholy

Football | St. Rita rides big 3rd quarter past Sandburg

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By Jason Maholy
Sports Editor

Down seven points and having just forced the St. Rita offense into a three-and-out, Sandburg appeared to have momentum on its side a few minutes into the third quarter of the teams’ opening night matchup.

Momentum, however, only lasts until it swings the other way.

And when you are playing a Chicago Catholic League power that has played in two state championship games and a semifinal over the past three seasons, it inevitably will.

It did, and the Eagles wound up on the receiving end of a 42-21 final on Aug. 25 in Orland Park.

Sandburg coach Troy McAllister saw some good things from his team, including a strong defensive effort, good play from the offensive line and a trio of playmakers who could prove to be a dynamic combination as the season progresses. But untimely miscues and a couple game-changing plays were the difference in a game that was more competitive than the final score might indicate.

“In the end, we just had more mistakes than they did,” McAllister said. “They were a more disciplined ballclub than us and that’s why they won.”

Eagles junior quarterback Anthony Shelton completed 10-of-15 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, both to junior wide receiver Charlie Snorek. He threw one interception.

Snorek also found the end zone on a 4-yard run to account for all three Eagles scores. He finished with six receptions for 121 yards.

Sophomore running back Luke Basiorka ran 24 times for 112 yards in his varsity debut.

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Sandburg junior wide receiver Charlie Snorek had six receptions for 121 yards in a 42-21 opening night loss to St. Rita. Photo by Jason Maholy

The game was tight throughout the first half, but St. Rita scored on a 9-yard run by senior running back D.J. Stewart with 18 seconds to play in the second quarter to take a 21-7 lead into halftime.

The drive was aided by a personal foul against Sandburg that negated a defensive stop on third-and-10.

But the Eagles weren’t discouraged, and closed the gap on the third play of the second half when Shelton found Snorek deep downfield. Snorek hauled in the pass and outraced the Mustangs defense to the end zone to complete an 83-yard play and make it a one-score game.

“He’s a difference-maker for us,” McAllister said of the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Snorek.

Things got more interesting when the Sandburg defense forced a punt and took over possession at their own 19-yard line. But on the first play, the St. Rita defense strip-sacked Shelton and recovered the fumble.

Five plays later, St. Rita senior quarterback Jett Hilding found Colin Lynch in the flat for an 8-yard score.

The Mustangs never looked back, essentially icing the game minutes later via a 56-yard pick-six by junior linebacker Justin Buckner. Junior running back Nick Herman added a 43-yard scoring jaunt less than three minutes after that to finish the St. Rita outburst.

McAllister was encouraged by his team’s physicality and resilience, noting the offense’s quick score coming out of halftime down 14 points.

“We responded and we got a touchdown to make it a one-score game,” he said. “It felt like every time they punched us we countered back on them.

“That’s a big step forward for us — to get smacked and smack back, and keep that intensity. We stuck around and put some points up, then the defense had a couple good stands; then we self-destructed and had a couple turnovers and it cost us.”

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St. Rita junior wide receiver Jimmy Maxson hauls in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jett Hilding for the Mustangs’ first score of the 2023 season. Photo by Jason Maholy

Snorek liked a lot of what Sandburg did against a tough opponent.

“I thought we could have had a better outcome, but we battled,” he said. “They’re a good team, they have some good players.

“We had a good game plan, just didn’t execute. Too many turnovers, we lost on special teams, we had a fumble and a pick-six. If we get rid of those things our game will be a whole lot cleaner.”

Snorek scored eight TDs as a sophomore in 2022 and will be leaned on heavily in the Eagles’ offense. He has embraced that role.

“I love when everybody looks to me; I like to be seen as a leader,” he said. “When we’re down, and I want them to look at me to bring them up. I want to get this team going in the right direction.”

The game marked the head coaching debut of Marty Hopkins, who succeeded Todd Kuska after the latter’s 25-year run at St. Rita. The rookie boss was pleased with what was a somewhat wobbly performance from a team that didn’t practice the two days prior to the game because of a summer heat wave.

“I felty like we had enough work in camp and the guys were ready,” he said. “I think they kind of got a little dust off early on, but it was good to see them come out in the second half and finish the game.”

Hilding ran 12 times for 66 yards and completed 7-of-11 passes for 82 yards and two scores.

Herman (6 carries, 67 yards, TD) and Stewart (10 carries, 59 yards, 2 TDs) contributed to the the Mustangs’ 205-yard rushing effort.

With the Eagles defense (three sacks) playing inspired ball against the deep and talented Mustangs offense, Martin was glad to see his prevention corps make the plays that turned the tide. The strip-sack of Shelton and subsequent touchdown were the response the team needed, and they carried that momentum to victory.

St. Rita sacked Shelton four times.

“That was huge,” Hopkins said about the fumble recovery. “That was something we talked about is playing complementary football, all three phases, so I was glad to see the defense answer the call.

“As soon as we got the ball back the offense scored. We had a bad series (the previous possession) and to see us bounce back as a team, that was great.”

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Sandburg quarterback Anthony Shelton gets rid of the ball as St. Rita linebacker Lacy Cormac hits him during the teams’ season-opener on Aug. 25 in Orland Park. Photo by Jason Maholy

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