(photo by Rick McIntyre, Excel High School Sports/McIntyre Imaging
Roncalli Returns To The Top In Class 4A
(story by Jeff Robison, Excel High School Sports)
An IHSAA State Football Finals fixture in the days of the RCA Dome, the Roncalli Rebels finally ended their drought of appearances on Friday with a 34-22 victory over the NorthWood Panthers in the Class 4A state championship game. The win was the first for Roncalli since 2004, while it was also its first title game appearance since a 2005 Class 4A final loss to Lowell.
The Rebels took the lead in the first half of in the battle of unbeaten, relying heavily on a defensive unit that managed to slow down NorthWood’s prolific offense, led by senior quarterback Trey Bilinski. The Panthers entered day averaging nearly 45 points per game, but were limited to just half that number by on this day.
The end result felt good for Roncalli coach Bruce Scifres, who has coached the Rebels to seven of the school’s nine state championships during his Hall of Fame level coaching career.
“This feels awesome,” Scifres said. “But, as happy as I am, I am even more proud and happy for our kids. They have really been a blessing for me.”
While Bilinski might have had the bigger billing of the two quarterbacks, it was Roncalli’s QB Derek O’Connor who produced the heroic performance. O’Connor ran for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth as he generated more 338 total yards of offense.
It was O’Connor that finally cracked open the scoring in the second quarter as he ended a 13-play drive with a two-yard scoring rush, one of 31 rushing attempts on the day. The Rebels defense returned possession back to its offense when Gabe Otley picked off a Bilinski pass, while O’Connor another time-eating drive to his second touchdown rush, this time for a one-yard touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.
NorthWood stayed in the game as Bilinski came up with his own two-yard scoring run before the break, however, the Panthers were never closer than one touchdown throughout the balance of the game.
Excitement rose through the third quarter as each team scored twice, Roncalli stretching the lead, while NorthWood continued battling back.
The Rebels took the opening kickoff of the second half, and made quick work of it as Luke Smock scored a 34-yard run. Brayton Yoder had NorthWood’s answer with a 36-yard run. O’Connor struck it big with 70-yard pass to Jacob Luedeman, however, Yoder ripped off a 31-yard touchdown run and Bilinski threw to DeAndre Smart for two points to reduce the margin to 28-22 entering the final quarter.
The Panthers stopped Roncalli’s ensuing possession, taking over a muffed punt snap. But, the Rebels defense bailed them out as Dylan Williams picked Bilinski. That momentum swing eventually led O’Connor scoring the game-winner on a 22-yard touchdown run, as Roncalli went on to the win.
Following the game, NorthWood senior Drew Minnich was named winner of the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award for Class 4A football. A three-sport athlete, Minnich will continue his athletic and academic careers next year at Cedarville (OH) University.