After three weeks of non-conference opponents the conference schedule has finally arrived for the teams of the Chicago Catholic League Blue division. One of the opening matchups features the Providence Catholic Celtics, who are rolling at 3-0 having outscored opponents 104-13 through three games, and the St. Rita Mustangs, who are coming off their first win of the season over De La Salle. Despite their different starts to the season, the friendly rivalry between Chicago’s two Augustinian high schools is always compelling.
While the Celtics are off to a near perfect start to the season on paper, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Much like the Loyola Ramblers, the Celtics are down their starting quarterback to a shoulder injury. However, their situation is much more serious. Sophomore Kevin Conway broke his collarbone in the Celtics’ win over Morgan Park and is out for the rest of the season. In has stepped senior Logan Phillips, who guided Providence to a 35-6 win over St. Laurence last week. Phillips says what’s most important going forward is that he and the rest of the Celtics offense support each other.
“I have to put the trust in the team to have my back, and they have to trust me to have theirs,” Phillips said.
He stressed that he and Conway have a great on-field relationship built on their friendship. For Conway’s part, he’s keeping his focus on the two remaining years he’ll have to play for Providence, and is committed to improving even if he can’t play.
“My goal is to get faster, stronger and smarter,” Conway said. “This can still be a productive season for me.”
No matter who has been at quarterback, the Celtics’ focus has been the ground game. Freshman Aaron Vaughn and Senior Brendan Martus have led the running attack behind a young offensive line (only one senior). This collective youth points to the Celtics’ being strong on the ground not only this season but for years to come.
“There’s a lot of promise for the future,” said head coach Mark Coglianese.
Coglianese isn’t overlooking Rita despite their slow start, stressing that conference games are always competitive.
“All the [Catholic League] Blue teams are good,” he stressed.
Friday night will be a first test of how the Celtics will stack up against those conference opponents this season.
This hasn’t been the start coach Todd Kuska and his St. Rita Mustangs would have wanted. They were finally able to get their first win last week against De La Salle, which Kuska credits to his team taking better care of the football.
“We didn’t turn the ball over last week,” he noted. “The first two games we turned the ball over like never before.”
The Mustangs had three turnovers in their first two games but were clean in last week’s win. Kuska said the team also wants to focus on the run game, using that to open up passing opportunities, as they head into the tougher portion of their schedule.
“The plan is to keep it on the ground, take our shots when we see them,” Kuska said of his plan starting this week against Providence. “Once you get into the conference play that’s pretty much how it is.”
The Mustangs rushing attack is led by the duo of Tahrhan Haynes (30 carries for 330 yards this season) and Javon Venson (13 carries for 141 yards). The two aren’t only partners in the backfield, but also on the Mustang track and field team, where they run consecutive legs of both the 4×100 meter and 4×200 meter relays.
“We’ve got a great relationship and great chemistry,” said Haynes of his partnership with Venson.
As for how they’ll face their next challenge, Haynes isn’t worried about records and is confident in himself and his teammates.
“We’re not worried about [Providence] at all, we’re going to play our best game and see if they can stop us.”
It’s shaping up to be good old fashioned ground war Friday night at St. Rita, and what better way to kick off another year of Catholic League rivalry football.
For complete coverage of tomorrow night’s game, follow me on Twitter @alex_s_campbell and keep a look out for my recap of the action and update on everything in the Catholic League on Monday, including how things played out between Brother Rice and Loyola.
*photos courtesy of St. Rita of Cascia High School and Providence Catholic High School*