Roncalli’s football team hadn’t lost since Nov. 20, 2015, when East Central ended its season in the semistate. The Rebels’ 22-game winning streak ended Friday thanks in large part to a couple of uncharacteristic errors.
On two occasions, both in the first half, Decatur Central defenders ripped the ball out of Rebel ball carriers’ hands. The host Hawks returned one for a touchdown, and took another to the Rebel 2-yard line. Those plays, and the Hawks’ dynamic offense, were enough to hand Roncalli a 49-45 loss.
The Rebels, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, won all 15 of their games last season en route to the 4A state title, and their first seven games this season. Decatur Central, a potential sectional opponent ranked sixth in 5A, improved to 7-1.
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Decatur Central had just tied the game, 7-7, with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter when the Hawks’ Kenny Tracy ripped the ball out of the Roncalli kickoff returner’s hands at the Rebel 13-yard line. Tracy then returned it untouched for a touchdown.
Then, with 1:39 remaining in the first half and the game tied 21-21, Tyrone Tracy did the same thing to a Rebel receiver on an out pattern. He gained possession at the Hawks’ 38 and returned it all the way to the 2. Decatur Central quarterback Bryce Jefferson, an Illinois State recruit, scored on the next play, giving the Hawks a 28-21 edge.
From there, the game swung back and forth. In all, the game featured three ties and seven lead changes, including four in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks appeared to gain control when they took a 35-24 lead with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter, but Roncalli’s Jacob Luedeman hauled in an over-the-shoulder 80-yard touchdown catch on the Rebels’ next play from scrimmage to cut it to 35-30.
After a 30-yard punt return and a 15-yard late hit penalty on Decatur Central enabled the Rebels to start the drive at the Hawks’ 24, Roncalli scored four plays later on quarterback Conner Gore’s 7-yard run. Michael Dill’s two-point conversion run gave the Rebels a 38-35 lead.
Neither team could stop the other after that. Finally, the Hawks’ Calvin Thomas scored on a 29-yard touchdown run with 2:58 remaining to give Decatur Central a 49-45 edge. Roncalli then drove to the Hawks’ 43 with about 1:30 left, and Jacob Luedeman hauled in a leaping catch at about the Hawks’ 25. The officials conferred, and ruled he had gone out of bounds before returning inbounds to catch the pass.
That made him an ineligible receiver, which wiped out the completion and prompted a penalty. The Hawks sacked Gore on the next play, pushing the Rebels all the way back to their own 29. Gore threw an incomplete pass, and then Jefferson, who finished with 331 all-purpose yards, intercepted Gore’s desperation heave on fourth down with 54.5 seconds left.
Roncalli finished with 307 rushing yards, led by Elijah Mahan’s 146 yards on 16 carries. Gore completed 11 of 16 for 200 yards, completing passes to six different receivers.