NOBLESVILLE — Roncalli football coach Bruce Scifres said the Rebels hadn’t played a more important regular-season game in his 27 seasons as their coach than Friday’s matchup at Guerin Catholic.
Playing without standout running back Kenny Gillum, and going against the Class 3A No. 2 Golden Eagles, Roncalli had plenty of adversity to overcome.
No problem. The Rebels, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, used a power running game, accurate passing, a timely defensive stop and some gutsy play-calling late to eke out a 28-21 win.
The victory gave Roncalli (9-0) the Circle City Conference championship in the league’s first year, and the first year the Rebels competed in a conference under Scifres. Guerin Catholic, which entered the game tied with Roncalli in league play, fell to 7-2 and 2-1.
Clinging to a 28-21 lead with two minutes to play, Roncalli faced a fourth down and 1 on its own 11-yard line. After calling timeout, the Rebels elected to go for it instead of punting. Patrick McManama, who took Gillum’s place as Roncalli’s top running option, powered for 3 yards and a first down.
That forced the Eagles to use their two remaining timeouts, and when Derek O’Connor completed a 9-yard pass to Aidan Parker with 1:30 remaining on third-and-6, Roncalli was able to run out the clock.
“We told them, this is what we do,” Scifres said, referring to the decision to go for it deep in their own territory. “If they stop us with 6 inches to go, we probably don’t deserve to win. We asked the players what they wanted to do, and I think they would have been disappointed if we punted it.”
McManama, who entered play with 268 rushing yards all season, ran for 156 and two touchdowns on 26 carries Friday. His second score, a 1-yard run with 9:39 to play, completed a 14-play, 76-yard drive that ate up 7 minutes and 48 seconds and gave the Rebels a 28-21 lead.
O’Connor didn’t throw for any touchdowns, but he ran for 88 yards and two scores and completed all 13 of his passes for 109 yards.
That helped offset Carter McGinnis’ performance for Guerin Catholic. He ran for 116 yards on 25 carries and scored all three of the Eagles’ touchdowns.
After Guerin Catholic scored the game-tying touchdown with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter, the Eagles didn’t get the ball back until 9:39 remained in the game, thanks to Roncalli’s long go-ahead touchdown drive. They then marched to the Rebels’ 36, but back-to-back sacks, by Josh Swan on the first stop and three Rebel defenders on the next play, stalled the Eagles’ drive and forced a punt.
Roncalli completed its fifth unbeaten regular season and its first since 1999, when the Rebels won the Class 4A state title. Roncalli hosts Northview next Friday in a first-round sectional matchup.