By James Kay
Through leg cramps, blown calls, and future collegiate star power, Riverside-Brookfield's varsity football team (3-1) was able to pull off a miraculous come-from-behind win against Aurora Christian (3-1) on Sept. 20 in Aurora.
RBHS quarterback Matthew Torres outdueled Aurora's Ethan Hampton in the final quarter to capture the Bulldog's third win of the season.
"The sign of a good team is performing up to the top-tier of its skill sets regardless of the circumstances," said RBHS head coach Brendan Curtin. "Chasing points, not getting calls … we know that is going to happen on the road, but I am so proud of the boys and how they responded to adversity."
In a game that featured no dull moments, Riverside-Brookfield led last Friday's theatrics off with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Aurora Christian's punter/running back, Josh Dornink, bobbled a low snap and was unable to get off a clean punt. The ball sailed 10 yards and rolled 20 more to the front of the left pylon. The Bulldogs' Santana Diaz grabbed the ball and walked in for a touchdown. After the missed PAT, the score was 6-0.
That is when the first half turned into the Ethan Hampton show.
Throughout the entire night, Hampton showed off his pinpoint accuracy and pro-level poise that has caught the attention of college scouts. After a lackluster opening drive from the run game, Hampton led the Eagles down to RB's 20-yard line.
With 6:00 left in the first quarter, Hampton threw a screen to wide receiver Danny Naw that appeared to be a backward pass. Naw missed the catch, and RBHS recovered the football. However, the officials ruled it a forward pass, and it proved to be costly for the Bulldogs. Hampton would eventually throw a five-yard strike to running back Jack Certa to end the drive.
After Riverside-Brookfield next series ended with a punt, Hampton threw a 79-yard touchdown on a wheel route to running back Noe Marrero. Marrero shook off his defender on the sideline, and ran 45 yards untouched. After Hampton, who is also Aurora Christian's kicker, converted the PAT, the Bulldogs trailed 14-6.
Throughout the first half, there were moments where it looked like Riverside-Brookfield wasn't going to piece it together on offense. After another failed series towards the end of the first quarter, Curtin caught the Eagles off guard on a fake punt on the 50-yard line with a direct snap to running back Eduardo Pena, who broke three tackles and gained a first down and 18 yards. Running back Luke Gentile would open the second quarter with a 23-yard run through the middle of the Aurora defense.
Hampton would strike again on the next drive when he converted three fourth down attempts before setting up the Eagles in the red zone on the RBHS 5-yard line. After the Bulldogs stopped Aurora to force a fourth and five situation, Hampton rolled to his right and threw an off-balance six-yard touchdown across his body to wideout JP Jira. Hampton would miss the PAT which left the score at 20-13 with six minutes to go in the half.
After another defensive stop by the Eagles, the half ended with Hampton hitting a 32-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to give the Eagles a 23-13 lead.
With all the momentum going in favor of Aurora Catholic, it seemed like the Bulldogs were going to be on their heels. Instead, they regrouped and devised a new game plan.
"You have to hand it to Coach [Bill] Duffy for the defensive adjustments we made at halftime," said Curtin of the RBHS' assistant coach. "They have a balanced attack and like to spread it around but we started pressuring them to throw the ball and it made all the difference in the second half."
While the defense came up big in the second half for RBHS, the Eagles beat themselves on multiple plays in the third quarter. Aurora Christian receivers dropped three passes that would have gone for 20-yard gains (one of them being a potential 35-yard touchdown that was bobbled in the end zone at the 6:20 mark).
The Eagles also had a costly delay of game penalty midway through the third quarter that forced them to punt instead of attempting a 35-yard field goal.
Riverside-Brookfield kept bringing the heat as Rahim Kouferidji and the Bulldogs' defensive unit forced Hampton outside of the pocket throughout the second half.
"Before the game, my coach told me I was going to get less offensive snaps because he wanted me to be fresh on defense and to go out and have a career day," said Kouferidji, who had two sacks on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. "I think I got that tonight."
After a scoreless 11:30 minutes of football, Matthew Torres scrambled for a 3-yard touchdown after the Bulldogs converted a fourth and 15 wildcat play through wide receiver Nick Novak. Torres came up grimacing on the play, but fought through the injury the rest of the way. RBHS missed the point after with the score remaining 23-19.
The Eagles tried draining the clock with a 6:30 minute drive, but RB was able to stop Aurora Christian on fourth and one on the Bulldogs' 32-yard line with just over two minutes to go.
Torres worked his magic out of a four-receiver set in shotgun to drive the ball all the way to the 36-yard line. On fourth and 15, running back Luke Gentile drew a pass interference call to keep the game alive. He would then catch a 21-yard touchdown in the middle of Aurora Christian's zone to give the Bulldogs a 25-23 lead. They eventually missed their 2-point conversion try from 30 yards out after delay of game and holding penalties drove them backwards.
With 45 seconds left, the Eagles had one last shot to save their undefeated record. Starting on his team's 33-yard line, Hampton connected with JP Jira in the middle of the field for a gain of 50 and had the Bulldogs reeling on their own 19-yard line. It looked like Hampton was going to rescue Eagles from their second-half collapse.
"At the end there, I think we got tired and undisciplined and couldn't make plays when we needed to," said Eagles' special teams coordinator Dean Griffing. "It really does come down to if you can't make plays at the end, you won't win."
In the last three plays of the game, Hampton and the Eagles' offense couldn't move the ball past the 19-yard line. A high snap sent the ball rolling to midfield, and Hampton barely got the ball and threw it away before the RB defense could get to him. On fourth and 10, Hampton had one last chance to kick the game into an Aurora victory. Right before the snap, the Eagles were called for a false start that pushed them back to the 26 yard-line. The game ended with Hampton not getting enough power under the kick, and it fluttered short of the goalpost.
"I think this win says a lot about our team and where we can go from here," said Torres. "The defense showed up, and we really trust this offense. This was a big win."
Riverside-Brookfield will try to build off its momentum against Ridgewood at home on Oct. 4.