Saturday, October 27, 2018

Redbirds run over by Joliet Catholic in playoff opener

By Aaron Ferguson
For the Metamora Herald

METAMORA - Joliet Catholic was the better team in a bitter end to Metamora's sweet season that exceeded expectations of their own.

The Hilltoppers (6-4) raced to a 49-20 win in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs at Malone Field on Saturday. It's Metamora's (8-2) worst playoff loss since a 44-12 loss to Sterling in the first round of the 2015 playoffs.

"We knew they'd be formidable," Metamora coach Pat Ryan said. "Do I think they're that much better than us? No I don't. But sometimes when you play one night and the momentum shifts, and then you start trying too hard and you're trying to maybe do things you're not capable of doing, but these guys kept playing."

"At the beginning of the year, I don't know everybody thought this is where we could get."

"They're physical, their running back is as good as we've seen all year and, I'm not taking any credit away from the other team that beat us (Washington), but (Joliet Catholic) is a good football team."

Senior quarterback Thomas Hall's season ended early. He got hit hard trying to evade pressure in the third quarter. He would sit on the sidelines with his knee iced and wrapped with a life lesson.

"Just don't take anything for granted and play your heart out whenever you're on the field," Hall said.

Said Ryan: "We'll just have to wait and see (on a diagnosis). I know it's not probably ideal. It's just unfortunate. He's meant so much to our program the past couple years, and he had such a great season. It's just hard right now to talk about it."

Without Hall, the Redbirds wouldn't have gotten on the board in the first half. After the first two drives stalled and Joliet Catholic built a 14-0 lead, Hall took advantage of the secondary.

He pulled the ball out of his running back's hands on a run-pass option, finding a wide-open Jack Moore for a 54-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-7 with 5:04 left in the first half.

"It's something we had called, but we thought they were going to play that but they ended up not playing that and it ended up with a good result," Hall said.

The Redbirds' first two drives stalled after failing to convert on fourth down at Joliet Catholic's 24 and 16, respectively.

"We had a chance to score first, and I'm not saying that would have won the ballgame, I'm not that naïve, but momentum is so important when you don't know much about them and you're trying to feel each other out," Ryan said.

Said Hilltoppers coach Jake Jaworski: "We brought some pressure, played some man coverage. Metamora does a great job of spreading you out, giving you some false keys, they have some nice lanky receivers and their quarterback could spin it pretty well. Our defense bent a little bit but it didn't break."

Joliet Catholic's Keenan Hailey and Nick Iannantone rushed for a combined 298 yards on 23 carries and four touchdowns. A quartet of three-year starters on the offensive line, including Purdue recruit Dave Monnot opened up holes.

"Obviously, everything with us for years has started up front," Jaworski said after earning his first playoff win for the perennial state power.

"It's kind of been on their shoulders and Keenan and Nick are the beneficiaries, but those guys are pretty good too. They run through some pretty big holes but they're special when they get through those holes."

Said Ryan: "We had no margin for error. At times, we were just taking things from the wrong shoulder. We were getting after it pretty good, but just not taking things on the right way."

The wheels fell off for Metamora after Hailey's 28-yard touchdown run made it a 21-7 game with 2:03 left in the first half.

Attempting a screen pass to Moore, Hall's pass fell incomplete but the Hilltoppers fell on it and the referee awarded them the ball, ruling it a backwards pass.

Hailey scored from two yards out before the half to take a 28-7 lead.

"Yeah, it was a tough play," Ryan said. "I certainly wouldn't say that was the difference in the game though because even in the second half, if we could have come out, of course Tommy getting hurt was not; it just wasn't a good night for us but I was proud of our kids hanging in there."

Metamora turned it over on its first two possessions of the third quarter, allowing Joliet Catholic to take a 42-7 lead.

Joliet Catholic will play Marion in the second round of the playoffs.

Extra Points: Seniors Zach Beanblossom and Clay Kiesewetter connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass for the final score of the game. ... Junior quarterback Vinny Querciagrossa threw an interception on his first pass replacing Hall. He bounced back by throwing a 62-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Vogel, a senior who is committed to play baseball at Bradley. ... Joliet Catholic quarterback Jordan Alvarez threw for three touchdown passes, doubling his season total. ... Hailey caught his second pass of the season, both of which are for touchdowns. ... JCA coach Jake Jaworski said this was his team's first game on natural grass in two years.

Aaron Ferguson is a freelance reporter for the Metamora Herald.

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