For the Daily Journal
Facing a 28-10 fourth-quarter deficit against 12-time state champion Cathedral, most high school football programs would stand no chance.
Roncalli’s football team has battled the Fighting Irish for decades, with more success than most. They had no intention of Friday night’s Class 5A sectional semifinal being any different.
Story continues below gallery
The fourth-ranked Rebels scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and had the ball late with a chance to win, but their furious rally fell just short, and fifth-ranked Cathedral survived with a 28-23 victory at Arsenal Tech High School.
Roncalli, which won the Class 4A state championship last season with a 15-0 record, finished 8-2 in its first season competing in 5A.
Conner Gore, who completed 20 of 31 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, found Jacob Luedeman twice in the end zone in the fourth quarter to cut Cathedral’s lead to 28-23 with 4:45 to play. After Roncalli’s defense held the Irish on their next possession, the Rebels took over at their own 36-yard line with 30 seconds remaining.
Luedeman, who hauled in all three of Gore’s touchdown passes and finished with six catches for 97 yards, caught a 9-yard pass on first down. Roncalli, however, finished with three straight incompletions, turning the ball over on downs with about five seconds remaining.
“I asked the team to put the first half behind them and give us 24 of the best minutes they’ve ever played, and they almost delivered,” Roncalli coach Scott Marsh said. “(Cathedral) made a few more plays than we did.”
Roncalli fell behind thanks in large part to mistakes that gave the Irish great field position. Three of Cathedral’s four touchdowns came after the Irish took over at the Roncalli 20-, 29- and 22-yard lines. A muffed punt, an interception and a 10-yard punt were the culprits.
Notre Dame recruit Markese Stepp took over from there for Cathedral. He finished with 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries. Irish quarterback Roman Purcell ran for one touchdown and threw for another.
Cathedral threw for just 22 yards, but ran for 229, while Roncalli managed just 96 yards on the ground.
The game got off to a sloppy start, as the 37-degree sleet appeared to affect both teams’ ball security. Cathedral fumbled the opening kickoff, leading to a Merrick Strykowski 30-yard field goal that game the Rebels a 3-0 lead. But Cathedral’s first touchdown came after Roncalli muffed a fair catch, giving the Irish the ball at the Rebel 20. Stepp ran a touchdown up the middle on the next play from scrimmage.
“We thought we had a good game plan going in, but we had a couple of plays with bad execution, and you have to execute almost flawlessly against athletes like that,” Marsh said. “What a great rivalry. Games like this, years later, I hope (the players) remember the competition. It was fun to coach in.”