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Ben Somers’ solid debut and a stout defense helps Brother Rice survive Hillcrest

Junior Ben Somers found out he won the starting quarterback job on Saturday. His teammates texted him encouragements throughout the week. Sometimes those small gestures mean a lot.

Brother Rice’s Ben Somers (12) finds running room against Hillcrest.
Brother Rice’s Ben Somers (12) finds running room against Hillcrest.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

Brother Rice had a four-player quarterback competition this summer. There were two seniors, a junior and a sophomore all vying for the spot.

Ben Somers, the junior, found out he had the job on Saturday. His teammates texted him encouragements throughout the week. Sometimes those small gestures mean a lot.

“Throughout the week they were texting me every day, telling me to stay confident and be their quarterback,” Somers said. “That really helped me out.”

Somers played like a seasoned veteran in the No. 12 Crusaders’ 26-20 win against visiting Hillcrest on Friday.

The 5-9, 165-pounder was 16-for-26 passing for 123 yards. He was also a force on the ground, gaining a game-high 102 yards on 15 carries.

“It was nerve-racking at first, stepping in,” Somers said. “I had to fill in some big shoes for a team that went to state last year. But it was fun. I came out and had the crowd with me so it was a good time.”

Somers’ two-yard touchdown run with 5:43 to play in the third quarter gave Brother Rice (1-0) the lead for good.

“Benny is a warrior,” Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said. “He’s a smaller version of John Bean. He’s got a heart of gold and I’m extremely proud of him. He did a great job.”

Crusaders running back Willie Shaw, one of the top players in the state’s junior class, finished with 87 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns. He cramped up in the third quarter and Brother Rice turned to Colin Condon, who had eight carries for 38 yards.

The Brother Rice defense was stout in the second half, clamping down on Hillcrest’s star running back Mar’Keise Irving and picking up a crucial safety.

“I was getting stretched out and I saw [the safety by Justin Jefferson] out of the corner of my eye and I was like ‘Wow,’” Shaw said. “We need that, it was great.”

Irving, who rushed for 18 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore last season, had some spectacular moments in the first half, including a 49-yard touchdown reception. He had 13 carries for 78 yards and touchdown and four receptions for 51 yards.

“We had guys there [in the first half] we just weren’t wrapping up,” Badke said. “We wore him down a little but but he is an explosive, big-time player. We all knew that and I was extremely proud of the way our defense bent a little bit but didn’t break.”

Hillcrest quarterback Robert Myles, a junior, was 13-for-29 passing for 127 yards. He threw the touchdown pass to Irving and had one interception.

The Hawks (0-1) lost to eventual state champion Joliet Catholic in the Class 5A state semifinals last season. It was the deepest playoff run in school history. Taking Brother Rice, a Class 8A power, down to the wire on the road is another sign that Hawks coach Morgan Weaver is building something special.

“I feel like we gave that game away,” Weaver said. “Hats off to them though, they executed off our mistakes. That’s a good team and that is exactly what I wanted in the first game. Now I know what kind of team I have and I know what we need to work on. We are only going to get better from this.”