8/24 7:00 @
7A Semifinals vs.Chicago (St. Rita)(12-1)
Kicker, Flaherty Lifts Mustangs
New Lenox (Bishop
While Kuska might sound like the Celtics biggest fan, having faith that the 5-4 Celtics would take down an 8-1Addison (Addison Trail)team, before having to face the #1 seed and 7A title favoriteEast St. Louis (Sr.)in the quarterfinals, he most definitely wasn't looking forward to a rematch with the underdog Celtics.
Providence had barely lost to St. Rita earlier in the season 17-14 in week #5, so the Mustangs knew that even with 4 losses this would be no easy game.
Providence's Mike Maher (WR 5'10 175 sr.) & Carson Cleveland (WR 5'9 155 sr.) would make the tough ones look easy as the two combined for some amazing receptions, but nothing was nearly intense as the final kickoff of the game. With Providence trailing 34-31, they would have just 4 seconds left to score.
With a short kick picked up by the Celtics before being lateralled to Maher, the crowd on the Providence side screamed in excitement as the Mustang crowd screamed in fear. After watching Maher break away on a 49 yard touchdown reception just before half & another TD reception from 20 yards out in the third.
Maher himself would be unable to escape from the kick off coverage team, as Mustangs who had been making big plays all game like, Steven McGowan (DB 5'10 210 sr.) & Matt Murphy (ILB 6'1 220 sr.) were bearing down on him and the ball.
The ball was pitched two more times before the Celtics were finally taken down. The cheering grew louder as the St. Rita bench erupted onto to the field along with fans jumping from the stands.
Providence finishes the season 8-5, as their bid to become the first ever team with 4 regular season losses to make the finals fell short by 8 seconds and a 23 yard Stephen Atkinson's field goal.
The game didn't look like it would turn into a classic shootout of Chicago Catholic (Blue) teams, as St. Rita struck first with a 67 yard drive just under 8 minutes long that ended with Peter Balsam (QB 6'3 210 sr.) diving in for a 1 yard TD.
The Mustangs would get the Celtics to punt after getting just 1 first down, but the Celtics would counter back and force ST. Rita to go 3 and out. A short punt set up Providence around midfield and a couple of plays later Brain Stroud (QB 6'4 226 sr.) would hit Cleveland in stride for a 50 yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the 1st quarter.
St. Rita second touchdown would come on another Balsam dive from 1 yard out with 2:22. This would start a scoring frenzy as both teams combined for 27 points in the last two and a half minutes of the first half.
Maher would get his first touchdown reception on for 49 yards as he pulled in a Stroud pass in tight coverage, with 1:21 left.
The Mustangs answered right back as Balsam hit Clifford Moore (RB 5'11 185 sr.) for a 60 yarder to make the score 21-14 with 1:03 left.
Providence would get a huge kick return from Brandon Phillips (RB 6'2 185 sr.) which would end with a 31 yard field goal with 42 seconds left and the score 21-17.
St. Rita would get the ball and drive down field one last time before Flaherty hit a 42 yarder with no time left to give the Mustangs a 24-17 lead.
The Mustangs would get some pressure on Stroud at the start of the second half with McGowan getting a sack, but Maher and Cleveland were key, coming up with big receptions, mainly a 20 yarder for Maher's 2nd TD of the day.
Balsam would get the Mustangs back in the lead again as he broke loose on a 13 yard TD run with 2:24 left in the 3rd.
Stroud would match his opposing QB, as he would plunge in from a yard out to tie the game at 31 with 8:01 left in the game.
With the game winding down, the play of the game may actually have been more around the 4:30 mark as St. Rita took a delay of game penalty on 4th down, giving punter Matt Murphy a little more space to work with. His punt which would be downed by the Mustangs at the Celtic's 2 yard line would turn out to be crucial.
The Mustangs would get out of their own endzone, but would punt after only getting 1 set of new downs and with the clock just under 2 minutes, the Mustangs would get the ball back at their 47 yard line.
A series of plays, including a Jason Kafka reception (WR 6'3 175 jr.) and a Balsam run, would get Flaherty in position for his game winning field goal. "So far it was definitely the biggest kick [of my career]" was the response from Flaherty.
Standing alone in the middle of the field as Providence called a time out to rattle the kicker you've got to wonder what's going through his head. "I was just in visioning a solid hit and watching it go through the middle" and straight through it did, taking 4 seconds off the clock and giving the Mustangs a 34-31 lead with just 4 seconds left to go.
Providence head coach Mark Conlianese whose turn around will most likely go down as one of the greatest season comebacks in the state said "I knew we had a very talented team. I give our seniors all the credit for not giving up. Our goal has always been to win the state title... I always knew that we could accomplish our goals. We took some tough losses early, but we kept getting better and better every game."
by Vincent Johnson
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