St. Rita surges back in the second half to beat Joliet Catholic

The No. 11 Mustangs scored three times in the fourth quarter to pull out a 20-10 win over the No. 14 Hilltoppers

SHARE St. Rita surges back in the second half to beat Joliet Catholic
St Rita’s Jett Hilding (5) scrambles for a first down against Joliet Catholic.

St Rita’s Jett Hilding (5) scrambles for a first down against Joliet Catholic.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

St. Rita coach Martin Hopkins isn’t much into making motivational speeches.

So at halftime of Friday night’s game against Joliet Catholic, Hopkins told his team — which was down by 10 points — what needed to be done better.

Then senior quarterback Jett Hilding took over.

“I asked him if I could say something to the team,” Hilding said. “It wasn’t like we were being outplayed necessarily, but we had no energy. We came out super flat.

“I told the boys, ‘We don’t work all week in practice ... just to come out here and stand on the sidelines. We had to come out here with all the energy in all facets of the game.”

The No. 11 Mustangs did, scoring three times in the fourth quarter, including twice in the final three minutes, to pull out a 20-10 win over the No. 14 Hilltoppers at Joliet Memorial Stadium.

Hilding overcame three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble — to finish with 13 carries for 60 yards and 95 yards on 6-of-16 passing. He ran five yards for St. Rita’s first touchdown, cutting the deficit to 10-6 with 10:53 left in the game.

Then Hilding found Colin Lynch in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard TD pass on fourth-and-14 with 2:12 remaining, The Mustangs (3-0) then forced a turnover on downs and DJ Stewart burst 29 yards up the middle for an insurance score with 1:24 to play.

Hopkins appreciated Hilding stepping up at halftime.

“I’m not one to make a lot of rah-rah speeches so I just said what I had to say,” Hopkins said. “Jett asked if he could talk and I just walked away. I didn’t know what he said, but I just know a lot of guys at the end of the game were very appreciative of what he said.

“Kudos to Jett to the way he stepped up to be a senior leader.”

For much of the game, a Joliet Catholic defense led by Wisconsin-bound lineman Dillan Johnson stymied the Mustangs at every turn. Stewart, who came into the game averaging more than eight yards a carry, had 34 yards on 11 rushes before his TD run. He finished with 75 yards on 14 attempts.

“Our defense played huge,” Stewart said. “[We made] halftime adjustments, just [had to] stick to the course, run the ball.”

Joliet Catholic’s Dillon Johnson (76) forces St. Rita quarterback Jett Hilding (5) to hurry a pass attempt.

Joliet Catholic’s Dillon Johnson (76) forces St. Rita quarterback Jett Hilding (5) to hurry a pass attempt.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

For a while, it looked like Joliet Catholic (2-1) would earn a second straight shutout of a CCL/ESCC power after blanking Providence 19-0 last week.

The Hilltoppers led 10-0 after one quarter on HJ Grigsby’s one-yard TD run and Patrick Durkin’s fifth field goal in the past two games, a 27-yarder.

But the Hilltoppers missed a chance to add on points at the end of the first half, which ended with them on the St. Rita 16. Then a blocked punt, a lost fumble and an interception ended second-half drives.

“What a wasted opportunity,” Joliet Catholic coach Jake Jaworski said. “[The defense] played their hearts out. Even those 20 points on the board — they played a lot better than that. ... They deserved a much better fate tonight.”

Grigsby had 84 yards on 21 carries. Senior Andre Munoz, one of two quarterbacks used by the Hilltoppers, was 7 for 11 for 82 yards with an interception.

“What I told our guys after the game, everybody’s all hunky-dory, feeling good the last two weeks,” Jaworski said. “Everybody kind of has that plan until you get punched in the mouth. And we got punched in the mouth tonight. ... We’ll see Monday how we respond.”

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