By Bob Vavra
For the Bugle
Four field goals and a punt doesn’t sound like much of an offensive attack, but Benet Academy’s defense made sure it was more than enough.
The Redwings’ 26-0 dispatching of previously-unbeaten Rockton Hononegah in the Class 7A playoffs at Benedictine University Saturday night was a defensive gem of the highest level. The Indians came to Lisle with a 10-0 record and left with just six first downs — only one after halftime.
Hononegah had just one play on the night longer than 8 yards, and that came in the first quarter. The Redwings picked off two passes, sacked Indians quarterback Ryan Van Schelven five times and limited the opponents to just 98 total yards.
“I trust our guys to put together a great game plan,” said Benet coach Pat New. “I thought we made a couple of adjustments on defense, and on offense, we just went a little quicker. Our offensive linemen said we could pick up the pace a little.”
The victory pushes Benet to the Class 7A quarterfinals at Lincoln-Way Central this weekend. The Redwings, who made it to the 7A semifinals a year ago before losing to eventual state champion East St. Louis, are anxious for a return to the final four.
“I told our kids I want to take one more step this year,” New said.
The defense, led by Jacob Snell, Joseph Kipp, John Benish and Matthew Kipp across the front and Michael Wymer, Devin Peterson and Connor Burke at linebacker, kept the Indians from being able to sustain their running game, and the defensive backfield of Jack Cooney, Connor Reid, Ben Cooney and Billy Lawler provided the coverage against Hononegah’s passing attack.
The Indians didn’t pass midfield at any point in the game, and the field position battle slowly wore down the visitors. Benet wasn’t able to muster much more in the first half, however, and it looked like Victor Karam’s 29-yard field goal in the first quarter would hold up until intermission. That’s when a punt by Colin Gillespie was downed at the Hononegah 1 yard line with 3:43 to go in the half, and that play actually turned the tide for the Redwings.
The Benet defense held and the Redwings took over after the punt at the Hononegah 32.
Junior Bennett Hickey, who gained 142 yards on 21 carries, dove to the 22 on third-and-2 to keep the drive alive, then caught a screen pass from Gillespie for 14 yards to get a first-and-goal. On third down, Gillespie faked to Hickey, rolled right and found Jack Eschenbach on a 3-yard scoring play with 38 second until halftime. It was 10-0, and that was more than enough on a night when Benet’s defense was in complete control.
In the second half, the Redwings defense forced four straight 3-and-outs, and the Redwings scored on four straight possessions. The quicker offensive pace got Gillespie into a little better passing rhythm, and that helped set up Hickey’s 15-yard scoring run early in the third period to push the lead to 17-0.
The rest of the night belonged to the defense and to Karam, who hit field goals from 22, 41 and 29 yards on the next three possessions. The 41-yard attempt hit the crossbar and—there is no other way to put it—caromed over for the points.