The Fenwick High School football team turned in a stellar effort on both sides of the ball to edge host Brother Rice 28-20 Friday in Chicago.
With 9:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, junior linebacker Justin Rodriguez intercepted a pass from Brother Rice quarterback Alex Alarcon in Fenwick territory and returned it 68 yards to the Crusaders' 4. Rodriguez's interception set up the Friars' 1-yard touchdown pass play from quarterback Gino Cavalieri to running back Robert Spillane which extended the Fenwick lead to 28-17.
Cavalieri finished 13-for-26 on the night with 173 yards passing and three touchdowns, while Spillane rushed for 137 yards on 28 carries. Senior wide receiver Jimmy Donahue nabbed two passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Spillane also hauled in seven passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
"We fight every down and on every play," Spillane said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight, and that's what we came here for against Brother Rice. We came out with the W so it was a good day."
Fenwick (3-0) also excelled defensively, as Rodriguez recorded two sacks to complement his clutch interception. Linebacker Mike Kozyra, who has served as a key playmaker all season, had seven solo tackles and assisted on six more takedowns. Senior defensive backs Rich Schoen, Keshaun Smith and Danny Shannon each had an interception for the Friars.
Trailing 17-14 midway through the third quarter, Cavalieri connected with Spillane on an 11-yard touchdown pass to cap off an impressive offensive series and put the Friars ahead for good at 21-17.
"We really started to pick it up in the second quarter," Spillane said. "We just turned it on and never looked back."
Fenwick held strong defensively early in the game, limiting Brother Rice to just one touchdown in the first quarter to stay within striking distance. Schoen believes the Friars' outstanding performance in the always tricky Chicago Catholic League crossover with the Crusaders was directly attributable to excellent pre-game preparation.
"It was all about all the hard work we put in during practice," Schoen said. "Our coaches pushed us 24/7. We just had great teamwork and communication the entire game."
With the Crusaders leading 7-0 with 7:48 left in the second quarter, Fenwick got on the board when Cavalieri threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Donahue. The windy conditions during the game frustrated the Friars particularly in the opening quarter as Cavalieri threw several incomplete passes. Fenwick head coach Gene Nudo knew Cavalieri and the rest of his team ultimately would find a way to overcome any difficulties.
"The wind was a big factor," Nudo said. "[Cavalieri] might have started out a little slow and there were some balls dropped, but all of our kids really battled throughout the game."
In the end, a victory over Brother Rice can only help the Friars already considerable confidence.
"We knew this was going to be our toughest challenge of the season," Fenwick head coach Gene Nudo said. "[Brother Rice] is a physical team, and we knew we had to play better than we did earlier in the game."
Fenwick takes on Bishop McNamara Friday (7:30 p.m.) at Hoffman Stadium on the Morton West campus.