Written by: John Nee '93
With St. Rita trailing long-time Catholic League rival Mt. Carmel 28-21 in the fourth quarter Friday night at Gately Stadium, little did the Caravan know that the Mustangs had them right where they wanted them.
After a five-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Jake Zylman (13-24 - 171 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions; 16 carries – 56 yards, 2 touchdowns) with just under nine minutes to play tied the game at 28, sophomore kicker Gavin Mottl was once again, for the third consecutive week, thrust into the spotlight with 0.6 seconds left, and the ball sitting at the Mt. Carmel 17-yard line. Last week Mottl had missed a game-tying 44-yard attempt as time expired; but this time he had all the confidence in the world in his ability.
“I treated it like I was practicing with my coach (long-time St. Rita kicking coach JJ Standring ‘97),” said Mottl.
Mt. Carmel coach Frank Lenti called two consecutive timeouts, attempting to ice the sophomore kicker. However, Mottl remained unfazed. He drilled the 34-yard attempt right down the middle, sending the Mustang faithful into a frenzy for the second time in the past three weeks. St. Rita outlasted Mt. Carmel 31-28 in one of the most memorable games in the two teams’ storied rivalry.
The Mustang defense struck first on Mt. Carmel’s opening possession. Safety AJ Jones scooped up a Michael Kennedy fumble on the Caravan’s first offensive play and scampered into the end zone for an early 7-0 Mustang lead. After consecutive Mt. Carmel touchdowns gave them a 14-7 lead, Zylman hooked up with his favorite target, senior tight end Tim Zaleski (six catches - 74 yards, 1 touchdown) on a 20-yd touchdown pass with under 30 seconds to play in the half. That sent the two teams to the locker room tied at 14.
The St. Rita offense came out of halftime rolling. They drove 64 yards on ten plays behind the running of senior running back Shaun Rule (16 rushes - 115 yards, six catches - 60 yards) and junior running back Chris Childers (four rushes – 22 yards) to take a 21-14 lead. Mt. Carmel took the lead back, as they scored on consecutive possessions to take a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter. That set the stage for another epic Mustang comeback.
St. Rita (3-2, 2-0) sits alone atop the Catholic League Blue. They travel to Wilmette this Saturday to battle #1-ranked Loyola (5-0, 1-0). They look to move one step closer to winning their first CCL Blue title since 2013. The game is Saturday in Wilmette at 1:30 p.m. following the sophomore game, which kicks off at 11:00 a.m.