Brother Rice quarterback Marcus Brown punches it for a touchdown in a 42-21 win over St. Rita on Oct. 20. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Brother Rice quarterback Marcus Brown punches it for a touchdown in a 42-21 win over St. Rita on Oct. 20. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Brother Rice tops St. Rita to clinch playoff berth

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By Xavier Sanchez
Correspondent

Brother Rice entered its final regular-season matchup needing fifth win to be eligible for a spot in the IHSA playoffs.

Their opponent, St. Rita, had won the week before to avoid being in the same situation. But with the goal of a deep playoff run and the opportunity to earn a higher seed in the postseason, the Mustangs weren’t about to ease up on their CCL-ESCC Blue rival.

The Crusaders, however, played like the team with more to lose, and had one of their more complete performances of the season in a 42-21 victory in Mount Greenwood. Quarterback Marcus Brown, running back Randall Nauden (32 carries, 231 yards) and the Crusaders defense carried the day.Brown, who split snaps with senior signal-caller Ryan Hartz, scored twice, and his understanding of the moment and what was needed began well before the game clock started ticking.

“We locked in and knew this was our game,” Brown said. “When teams like this come, we always need to know that we must buckle up and play our game.”

Heading into the game with losses to possibly the state’s two best teams in defending state champions Loyola and Mount Carmel, as well as Nazareth and Marist, the Crusaders were battle-tested. And they wasted no time getting going.

Nauden capped off a 56-yard game-opening drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown before two minutes had elapsed. He followed that with another score just minutes later after the Crusaders defense got the ball back on an interception by safety Jake Duggar. The pick was one of two by Rice.

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Brother Rice running back Randall Nauden (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring early in the first quarter of a 42-21 win over St. Rita. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

The Crusaders led 17-0 led after one quarter, but the Mustangs scored twice in the second to close the gap. The first came on a 37-yard pass from quarterback Jett Hilding (6-for 13, 194 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) to wide receiver Jimmie Maxson (4 Rec, 174 yards). St. Rita got another touchdown from running back DJ Stewart (17 carries, 70 yards, TD).Maxson scored on a 61-yard reception to give the Mustangs their first lead of the night, 21-20, early in the second half.

The rest of the night, however, belonged to the Crusaders, who would go on to score 22 unanswered points. On the drive following the Rice defense’s second interception of the night, Brown punched it into the endzone on a fourth-and-one to regain the lead, 27-21.

The Crusaders capped off the evening with Brown’s second touchdown of the night and another from Randall Nauden, this time for 56 yards.

Rice coach Casey Quedenfeld emphasized the importance of taking advantage of opportunities, and noted he would have rather scored touchdowns on drives that ended in successful field goals.

“I you want to continue to play football next week, and continue to practice and be together as a team, you have to take advantage of every single opportunity that presents itself,” he said.

The Crusaders are seeded 26th in the 7A playoffs and will open the postseason at No. 7 seed Batavia (8-1). The Bulldogs are on a seven-game winning streak and have lost only to unbeaten Lincoln-Way East, the No. 2 seed in Class 8A.

“Backs against the wall,” Nauden said. “Everyone has the same record. Winner go home. We’ve been doing that for the last two weeks. We have to win.”St. Rita is the No. 27 seed in 7A and will open the playoffs on the road against a familiar foe in CCL-ESCC Blue rival Mount Carmel (8-1).

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