The St. Rita Mustangs (10-3) will travel to Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University on Saturday to battle the seven-time Class 4A state champion Rochester Rockets (12-1) for the IHSA Class 5A state championship at 10am in the first of four heavyweight battles on Thanksgiving weekend.
St. Rita will be playing in their third ever IHSA state championship game winning the Class 5A title in 1978 at Illinois State University 15-9 over Buffalo Grove and the 2006 Class 7A title at the University of Illinois in Champaign over Lake Zurich 35-21. The Mustangs are led by Catholic League and St. Rita Hall of Fame coach Todd Kuska (22 seasons), who is the winningest football coach in St. Rita football history while leading the Mustangs to seven catholic league titles, four Chicago Prep Bowl titles and the 2006 Class 7A state title.
Rochester won seven straight IHSA Class 4A titles from (2011-2017) before losing to Bishop McNamara in last year's Class 4A semifinals 52-42. The Rockets are led by head coach Derek Leonard, who has been at the helm for each of Rochester's titles. He is the son of legendary Sacred-Heart Griffin Head Coach Ken Leonard. Father and son squared off in this year's quarterfinals with the Rockets defeating the Cyclones 49-35 in the eleventh edition of the "Leonard Bowl."
This year's Mustangs are led by Class 5A 1st-team all-state sophomore running back Kaleb Brown (1947 yards rushing, 32 total TDs). Brown, who was the Tony Lawless Award winner for the Catholic League Green champion Mustangs, has scored 13 of his 32 touchdowns during the Mustang's playoff run. Joining Brown on the offensive side of the football is junior running back Kyle James who has scored three touchdowns over the past two weeks. The Mustangs have used two quarterbacks during the playoffs, sophomore Tommy Ulatowski and junior Brian Johnson, and will most likely will play both in the title game. Upfront, the Mustangs are led by senior first-team all-catholic league and honorable mention Class 5A all-state left tackle Trevor Tovey, first-team all-catholic league junior offensive tackle Bode Turner, and second-team all-catholic league center Chris McDevitt.
Defensively the Mustangs have been on an unbelievable run during their current nine-game winning streak as they have shut out three opponents (Providence, Notre Dame, and Sterling) while allowing just over eight points per game during the streak. They are led by first-team Class 5A all-state linebacker Mike Gaughan, who leads the Mustangs in tackles by a wide margin, and he is joined by all-catholic league senior defensive lineman Mike Milton (15.5 sacks) and all-catholic senior defensive backs Tommy Hixson and Zenin Hall.
The Rochester Rockets are led by senior, first-team all-state quarterback Clay Bruno, who has thrown for nearly 3,400 yards on the season. His favorite target is sophomore wide receiver Hank Beatty while senior running back Jacob DuRocher (1,800 yards rushing) keeps the high-octane Rocket offense balanced as they have averaged over 51 points per game on the season.
After dominating Class 4A football over the past decade, Rochester will look to establish their program as one of the best in the entire state of Illinois legitimizing their previous accomplishments by beating a traditional 7A school in the title game while St. Rita will be looking to re-establish themselves as one of the traditional state powers in the state of Illinois. It's a contrast in styles that will be a great show for fans from all over the state of Illinois to see.
Pre-sale tickets are available at St. Rita on Wednesday and Friday this week in the athletic office between 1pm and 5pm, and they will also be available in the concession stand for Thursday's open-to-the-public Thanksgiving morning practice for the alums and friends of the program at 9am. All tickets are $12 and they will also be available at the ticket window on Saturday morning.
GO MUSTANGS! #BeatRochester