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St. Rita’s sophomore running backs step up in win against Rolling Meadows

Sophomore running back Ethan Middleton broke loose for 78 yards on St. Rita’s opening play, and the Mustangs scored three touchdowns in the first nine minutes of the game. 

St. Rita’s BJ Hall (1) and Liam Bartos (23) celebrate during the game against Rolling Meadows.
St. Rita’s BJ Hall (1) and Liam Bartos (23) celebrate during the game against Rolling Meadows.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

St. Rita senior Kaleb Brown, who was injured in the first few minutes of the season opener, was dressed and ready to play in the Mustangs’ Class 7A state playoff game on Friday.

That’s exciting news for St. Rita, area football fans and Ohio State. But the Mustangs didn’t need him in a 42-7 running clock win against Rolling Meadows.

Sophomore running back Ethan Middleton busted loose for 78 yards on St. Rita’s opening play, and the Mustangs (8-2) scored three touchdowns in the first nine minutes of the game.

“We don’t need to push it,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “With the weather and the situation I thought we were alright. We have some other guys that can play.”

Kyle Clayton, St. Rita’s starting running back who has filled most of the void left by Brown’s injury all season, is out with an injury himself. Kuska isn’t sure when he will be back.

“It’s running back by committee from here on out,” Kuska said. “You turn the ball over and you are out. Competition makes everyone better.”

Middleton had 15 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns. That’s impressive production in a playoff game from a young player that was on the bench three weeks ago.

“I’m starting to get the hang of it,” Middleton said. “At first I was cautious, trying to find a hole. Now I’m starting to see it a little bit more, starting to feel the speed.”

DJ Stewart, another sophomore running back, added 11 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown. St. Rita quarterback Tommy Ulatowski ran for three touchdowns, all in the first quarter.

It was 35-0 at halftime.

“[Middleton’s big run to start the game] gave us energy,” St. Rita lineman Djabril McNabb said. “That just carried over to the defense and the special teams.”

McNabb recovered two Rolling Meadows fumbles. Rolling Meadows (5-5) managed just five rushing yards in the game.

Evan Grace, Rolling Meadows’ quarterback, was 8 for 15 passing for 165 yards with one interception. He connected with senior Ethan Groark for an 88-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

St. Rita will face the Collinsville vs. Geneva winner on the road in the second round next week.