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Francesco Ricciardi leads Notre Dame past Kenwood in Prep Bowl

Ricciardi ran for two touchdowns in the first half and then stopped two Kenwood drives with interceptions as the Dons cruised to a 35-6 win at Gately Stadium in the 91st Prep Bowl.

Notre Dame’s Randy Russ (2) reacts after scoring a touchdown against Kenwood.
Notre Dame’s Randy Russ (2) reacts after scoring a touchdown against Kenwood.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Francesco Ricciardi had been waiting for this.

An all-conference running back/slotback, Ricciardi has done plenty on that side of the ball as Notre Dame’s leading receiver with almost 1,000 total yards.

But the Dons also needed some help in the secondary on Friday, and the junior delivered a big two-way performance.

Ricciardi ran for two touchdowns in the first half and then stopped two Kenwood drives with interceptions as the Dons cruised to a 35-6 win at Gately Stadium in the 91st Prep Bowl.

“I’ve been practicing [defense] since last year,” Ricciardi said. “I was just kind of there for reserve. It was fun to get out there.”

Ricciardi’s interceptions came at the Notre Dame 2-yard line and in the end zone, keeping Kenwood (10-3) from digging itself out of a 35-0 halftime deficit.

“He subbed in for somebody who was hurt,” Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey said of Ricciardi. “That’s what happens. Good people create good situations.”

Notre Dame’s defense did that all day, getting seven takeaways: six interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Four of the takeaways came in the final 5:27 of the first half and two of those resulted in touchdowns: Randy Russ Jr.’s 27-yard pick-six and Jalil Johnson’s 25-yard scoop-and-score.

“Once we got that first pick, we knew it was time for us to turn up after that,” Johnson said.

Those TDs turned a 21-0 Notre Dame lead into a 35-0 halftime edge.

“It was really good to see our team come together more because we haven’t really had many takeaways this season,” Ricciardi said.

The Dons also scored on some razzle-dazzle as Colin Randazzo threw a 32-yard option pass to Nathan Garnhart for a TD in the first quarter. Randazzo ran for a game-high 74 yards on 25 carries, while Dons quarterback Vincenzo Ricciardi rushed eight times for 56 yards.

All in all, it was a redemptive performance for Notre Dame (7-6), which followed a 3-6 regular season with four straight wins in the Prep Bowl playoffs.

The record was deceiving, though. Five of the Dons’ losses came to teams that reached the IHSA quarterfinals, and two were against teams playing for state titles on Saturday: Fenwick and St. Rita.

Notre Dame Players celebrate winning the Chicago Prep Bowl against Kenwood at Gately Stadium.
Notre Dame Players celebrate winning the Chicago Prep Bowl against Kenwood at Gately Stadium.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Being able to hit the reset button and get another month of practice along with the four wins was big for a team that will return some key skill players in 2022.

“It really gave us an opportunity to come full circle,” Hennessey said. “We struggled in the beginning [of the season], played some good teams. Probably in the long run, [that] really helped.

“The kids have demonstrated some resilience and persistence, and came out and played good, tough football.”

Like Notre Dame, Kenwood was playing in its first Prep Bowl. A bright spot for the Broncos was the defensive effort of junior linebacker K’Vion Thunderbird, who had an interception and 11 tackles. Quarterback Lou Henson scored Kenwood’s lone TD on a fourth-quarter run.

Coach Sinque Turner will remember the highlights: Kenwood’s first 10-win season and Prep Bowl appearance, a program-best third straight IHSA playoff berth and more.

“It was a season full of success and history,” he said. “I’m proud of my guys. You’ve got a lot of guys going Division I, making all-state, all-city.

“It was a good experience. We’ll learn from it. We’ll come back bigger, faster, stronger next year.”