A gloved hand hoists the sectional trophy as Roncalli players congregate after winning Friday’s sectional championship game.
By Steve Page
J.J. Prendergast could hardly believe his eyes, even though the senior outside linebacker for Roncalli had an inkling of what was to come.
Faced with a third-and-10 from his own 18 and with the score tied a 14-14 early in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Sectional 21 championship game, Brebeuf quarterback Maverick Geske opted to throw toward the right sideline.
“My eyes were popping out of my head,” said Prendergast. “It was the craziest moment of my life.”
Prendergast stepped into the pass and returned the ball untouched into the end zone. Senior Joe Parrett kicked his third conversion, and the Royals held on for a 21-14 victory at Bob Tully Field.
“Coach said something about him (Geske) going to his right,” Prendergast said of a conversation with defensive coordinator Brian Lauck. “I saw him turn his shoulder that way.”
“We read it,” first-year head coach Eric Quintana said. “Kudos to our defensive coordinator, to JJ, to our entire defense. They did a great job.”
The Royals could not have accomplished that feat without their own passing game.
Brebeuf’s game plan was to stuff senior running back Luke Hansen and Roncalli’s ground game. The ploy worked, especially in the first half, when the Braves blanked their hosts, limiting the Royals to just 19 offensive plays and no first downs.
Quintana and his staff adjusted after intermission, running Hansen toward the edges instead of straight ahead. The difference came when quarterback Arik Moyers, a transfer from Plainfield, hooked up with fellow senior tight end Nolan Tunny for touchdowns of 50 and 52 yards. Both came on slant plays in which Tunny broke free in the secondary and raced away to score. The first came early in the third quarter and tied the score at 7. The second tied the score at 14 with 10:38 to play.
“They were stacking the box,” Tunny noted. “The passing game was going to be a big thing. We had that same play open in the first half, and I knew if we went back to it, it was going to be a big play. I knew Arik could make the right read when he did.”
“Nolan Tunny had an electric game,” Quintana said. “I challenged those guys to have the best game of their season and they did.”
“They didn’t let us run the ball, so we had to go to the passing game,” Moyers said after going 8-13-0 for 139 yards and the two TD strikes. “He (Tunny) has been there for us all year. He blocks like crazy. And he’s a great receiver. We just had to stay confident, trust our coaches, trust our game plan.”
And trust that defense.
While Geske did go 9-31-1 for 198 yards and a 77-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Dylan Wells, the Braves managed just one other TD, a 22-yard run around right end by Jack Maiers. Despite its first half, Roncalli did convert on 7 of 12 third-down opportunities. The defense stopped the Braves on nine of 13 such attempts. With three quarterback sacks, the Royals held Brebeuf to 46 rushing yards, an average of 1.5 yards per rush.
“Our defense kept us in it,” said Moyers. “Then we all started getting on the same page.”
After finding some running room outside in the second half, Hansen totaled 138 yards on 29 carries, bringing his season total to 2,681 yards. He also helped clinch the win. With just under two minutes remaining and the Royals facing a third-and-1 at their own 34, Hansen leapt over the line, extending the ball past the stripe. That enabled Roncalli to run out the clock.
The second-ranked Royals, now 11-1, will host top-ranked New Palestine, 12-0, for the regional championship on Nov. 11. The Dragons advanced by outscoring Connersville 43-14.
Quintana smiled at the thought, saying, “I’m proud of our guys; love our guys. This is a special group and I can’t wait to prepare again for another week.”