LAST WEEK: The Crusaders beat St. Rita 52-33 on the road.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dino Borrelli, sr., QB, Branden Houston, sr., WR/RB, Jack Keane, sr., SS, Aarion Lacy, sr., RB/DB, Ricky Smalling, sr., WR, Xazavian Valladay, sr., RB/LB, Larry Washington, sr., DL
GAME NOTES: Brother Rice and Loyola have been two of the best teams in the state all season, and a lot is riding on Friday’s game in Chicago. The winner finishes the regular season undefeated, captures the Catholic Blue championship and is the top seed in the Class 8A playoffs. It’s no surprise that Loyola head coach John Holecek said the Crusaders are the best team the Ramblers have faced this season. “They are the most athletic and have by far the best offense,” he said. “Fenwick had a very good offense and team, but [Brother Rice] has good players all over the field. We have to stop a complete offense.” … The Crusaders have averaged 48.5 points a game and haven’t scored fewer than 31 in a game. However, Brother Rice’s defense has surrendered its share of points. In three conference games, the Crusaders allowed an average of 32 points a game. Meanwhile, the Ramblers gave up an average of 12.7 points a game to the same three opponents. … Senior receiver and University of Illinois commit Ricky Smalling is the star on Brother Rice. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Smalling is big, fast and has good hands. A strength of his is yards gained after the catch. For the season, he’s caught 47 passes for 953 yards and 14 touchdowns, according to the Chicago Tribune. Holecek said he’s never coached against a better receiver. “He’s the most athletic and polished, and he’s physical,” Holecek said. But Brother Rice can run the ball, too, with senior running back Xazavian Valladay, a 5-11, 175-pound Wyoming recruit who has totaled 1,136 yards on the ground and scored 13 TDs, according to the Tribune. The offense is directed by senior quarterback Dino Borrelli. In last week’s win over the Mustangs, he threw for 373 yards and TDs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Tribune reported Borrelli has completed 64.5 percent of his passes this season. “He gets rid of the ball quickly, makes good reads and good decisions,” Holecek said. … Brother Rice’s playmakers on defense include senior safety Jack Keane and senior defensive lineman Larry Washington. … Loyola lost 16-13 the last time it played Brother Rice in Chicago during the regular season in 2014. But the Ramblers have won the past two meetings, a 31-14 victory during the Prep Bowl playoffs and a 28-0 win in Wilmette during the regular season last year.