This is unfamiliar territory for Matt Page, and for the Catholic League Blue in general.
In a conference where the run game rules, Page and Brother Rice are rewriting those rules.
The Crusaders senior passed for 414 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for the decisive score as Rice beat St. Rita 23-21 Friday night.
“This is all new to me,” Page said. “With the old offense, it was run the ball. I’d throw the ball five, six times a game.”
On Friday, he put up 47 passes and completed 30 of them, to a variety of receivers. One of the best is Chris Rozell, a 6-foot, 158-pound junior who hauled in a 54-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
“Rozell was great all night,” Page said. “None of the DBs could run with him. He’s the fastest kid in the Catholic League, in my opinion.”
Page also threw a 34-yard scoring pass to sophomore Marcus Jones with 3:49 left in the first half to put the Crusaders (3-1, 1-0 Catholic Blue) up 14-7.
But St. Rita (2-2, 0-1) tied it 1:15 before halftime on John Kelley’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Tom Adent, and as it did the week before against Fenwick, seemed poised to pull away in the second half.
The Mustangs went ahead 21-14 on Kelley’s 85-yard pass-and-run to Tom McCormick just 68 seconds into the third quarter. Then they took over on downs on their own 33 late in the period and marched down to get a first-and-goal at the Rice six-yard line.
It was second-and-goal at the one when Redic Richardson forced a fumble and teammate Brian Craft recovered it for the Crusaders at the Mustangs’ three.
“It was on the ground, they were clawing at it,” Craft said. “I tried to stay strong down there.”
He did and St. Rita had just one first down the rest of the way. But it was still an uphill struggle for Rice. A muffed punt by St. Rita kept that drive alive, but the Crusaders turned it over on downs again with 8:31 left. After a Rita three-and-out, Rice pulled within 21-17 on Brian Kane’s 40-yard field goal.
The Crusaders got the ball back with 3:55 to play at their 30 and Page got the chains moving again. An 18-yard completion to Rozell got the ball to the Mustangs’ 35 and a 30-yarder to Malik Moody set up a first-and-goal at the two. Page ran it in from there with 1:52 left.
One more defensive stand and it was over — the game and Rice’s five-game losing streak to its rival.
Page credits new coach Brian Badke for the Crusaders’ renaissance.
“His motto is, ‘The New Crusade,’” Page said. “We’re getting back to being a powerhouse in the Catholic League. He’s brought in a good coaching staff, I love our offense, our defense is very good. … I’m excited.”
So is Badke, who was at St. Rita for the first time since playing in Rice’s 10-0 win over the Mustangs in 1991.
“It was a great game, got a little interesting there,” Badke said after taking a Gatorade shower. “We dealt with some adversity. Our defense stepped up when we needed them to.”
Jones added 63 yards on 14 rushes and Page ran 13 times for 41 yards.
Tim Lombard ran 10 times for 61 yards and a touchdown for St. Rita. Kelley was 14-of-30 for 155 yards.
“We failed to take advantage of some opportunities we had,” Mustangs coach Todd Kuska said. “That comes back to haunt you.”