DAILY JOURNAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
Facing an opponent with three extraordinary skill players Friday, Roncalli’s football team effectively shut down all three.
The Rebels will play in the semistate for the first time in 10 years as a result.
Roncalli held the state’s leading rusher, Delta’s Zach Mills, to just 39 yards and used strong play in all phases en route to a 49-12 victory against the Eagles in the Class 4A regional title game at Roncalli Stadium.
The 10th-ranked Rebels (9-4) will play at Evansville Harrison or ninth-ranked East Central next week in the semistate, with game day and time to be determined. Roncalli defeated East Central 31-10 on Oct. 16 in the regular-season finale. Delta’s season ended at 9-4.
In addition to the regional crown, the win gave Roncalli 100 postseason wins in its history, making the Rebels only the seventh school in the state to achieve that milestone.
A win next week would put the Rebels in the state finals for the first time since the 2005 squad lost to Lowell in the 4A title game. Roncalli claimed its 14th regional crown with Friday’s win, which ties it for ninth-best among all Indiana schools, and improved to 11-1 all-time in regional games at Roncalli Stadium.
In addition to shutting down Mills, who entered the game averaging 196 yards per contest, the Rebels’ Justin Saylor blanketed Delta receiver Mitchell Hahn, who had caught 51 passes for 1,227 yards this season. Saylor held Hahn to just two catches for 26 yards despite being targeted on several occasions, and added a 45-yard punt return touchdown with 8:09 remaining to conclude the scoring.
Delta quarterback Ryley Pease completed just nine of his 23 pass attempts for 122 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Meanwhile, Rebels’ signal-caller Robbie Strader completed 6 of his 12 passes for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both in the first quarter.
Roncalli running back Nate Fries took control from there, with two touchdown runs and one touchdown pass. He rushed for 131 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 15 yards. Will Harris had the Rebels’ other touchdown reception, a 55-yard catch on a play-action pass with five seconds left in the first quarter to give Roncalli a 14-0 lead.
Fries’ first touchdown run, a 66-yard rumble on which he broke multiple tackles, gave Roncalli a 21-0 lead 55 seconds into the second half.
Caleb Bowling added a 79-yard kickoff return touchdown for the Rebels to extend their lead to 28-6 with 10:04 to play in the third quarter, on the first play after Delta’s first touchdown. Patrick McManama added a 14-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.