The St. Charles College Cardinals are a different team with Nathan Rivet in at quarterback.
That much was apparent again on Friday night at the James Jerome Sports Complex, as the Cardinals bounced back from a few weeks of (at times) sluggish football, picking up a key 17-9 win over the St. Benedict Bears.
Rivet, who was injured (sprained ankle) in the third quarter of the St. Charles opening game loss to the Lo-Ellen Park Knights, surprised head coach Rob Zanatta by declaring himself good to go for the big match-up earlier in the day.
And while St. Charles still featured a run-oriented offense (running backs Liam Cousineau and Buyi N'Galamulume combined for 101 yards on 25 carries), Rivet would throw just often enough (5/12 for 104 yards) to keep the Bears' defense honest, in addition to running for 20 yards on his own.
The Cardinals opened the scoring in the first quarter, with Cousineau slamming his way home from the two yard line and Aiden Ragogna adding the convert. St. Benedict appeared poised to pull even just minutes later, staring down a first and goal from the six, only to sputter, offensively, at a most inopportune time.
Compounding matters, kicker Giovanni Mastroianni drifted his field goal attempt wide to the right, forcing St. Benedict to settle for just a single point. It was a similar story late in quarter two with the Bears again knocking on the door, and again pick up just a single on a 19-yard kick that missed the uprights, making the score 7-2 at the half.
The Cardinals started the second half even more swiftly than the first half, increasing their lead to 14-2 when N'Galamulume darted in from the 15 yard line, just 2:18 into the third quarter.
This time, however, the Bears would answer. Showcasing easily their best drive of the game, the St. Benedict offense marched the field, making things interesting as quarterback Adam Rocha found wide receiver Chris Gosk (who also doubled as a safety, registering two interceptions, not to mention his 134 yards in kick returns) from five yards out.
The Cardinals would give themselves some breathing room before the end of the quarter as Ragogna split the posts from 33 yards out, making it 17-9, the last time the scoreboard would change in the contest.
With the Bears pressing in the final few minutes of play, defensive back Liam Williamson came up with a key interception near his own goal line, returning the ball to the 44 and helping the Cardinals improve to 2-2, bumping St. Benedict to that same record.
"At practice this week, we really made sure that we went 100 per cent in every single drill, taking every drill like it's in game, so that we would be ready for these guys," said Williamson, an 18-year-old grade 12+ student at St. Charles. "We knew that it would be a close game."
With St. Benedict coming off a very solid effort in a 28-13 loss to the Lively Hawks last week, a contest in which the Bears' aerial attack was impressive, Williamson and company knew exactly where their emphasis should be placed in this grudge match.
"Their quarterback (Rocha) has a wicked arm, so we were obviously aware of that, so we made sure we worked with our defensive backs all week, to make sure we were ready to cover their receivers," he said.
Mission accomplished. The Cards limited Rocha to a 7/19 - 67 yards passing line, forcing the Bears to rely heavily on running back Eric Elliot, who contributed with his most impressive outing of the year (17 carries for 124 yards).
The net effect of the result means that fans could easily see a three-way tie for second place come next Saturday, with Lo-Ellen, St. Benedict and St. Charles all (potentially) at 3-2 and likely sitting behind an undefeated Lively Haws' squad at 5-0.
"I think this shows the league that we're still in this, and we can still beat any team," said Williamson. "We just need to be healthy. We need all of our guys, and we can play with anyone."
Both teams would see their defensive stats spread out between five or six key members of their respective units, with N'Galamulume (4.5 tackles) and Williamson (4 tackles) leading the way for St. Charles, while Ben MacDonald topped all defenders with 6.5 for the Bears, followed by Brady Chisnell and Chris Scherzinger with three tackles each.
In the early game Friday that was essentially a foregone conclusion, the Lively Hawks bounced the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes 38-0, as coach Reg Bonin took advantage of the lopsided affair to find playing time for several of the younger players on the Lively roster.
Nick Witzke hauled in a pair of touchdown passes, one each from quarterbacks Nicholas Rideout and Matti Nurmikivi, with Eamon Dolphin, Lucas Howland and Kelvin MacLean adding one major apiece.
Rideout made good on all five of his conversion attempts, adding a 35 yard field goal, just for good measure.