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Bruins, Rockets in key TRAC South battle

It’s Homecoming week at St. Bede with conference implications on the line, not to mention being able to all but wrap up a playoff berth. It won’t get any better than that for the Bruins and their faithful Saturday afternoon at the Academy gridiron.

The Bruins will welcome their alumni along with the Rockets of Rockridge High School for a key TRAC South Division battle. The Rockets are 5-0 overall, driving toward the conference championship sitting 3-0 atop the division standings. If the Bruins (4-1, 1-1) want to stay in contention for the South crown, they must beat the Rockets.

“Homecoming is always a huge day for us at St. Bede. I know coach (John) Bellino will be reminding our kids that they are the show on Homecoming…everyone is coming to see them play, and they need to be ready,” St. Bede athletic director Tom McGunnigal said. “I know that he and the coaching staff will have them ready at game time and the boys will just need to go out and execute. Rockridge is very good. They are a perennial playoff team, and they are of that same caliber this year. I would anticipate a great high school football game. A great atmosphere for our players, kids, and alumni.”

The Bruins stand fourth presently in the TRAC South at 1-1, having fallen to Kewanee (4-1, 2-0) in Week 3. The Boilermakers will face Rockridge in Week 9 for what could be a potential title showdown.

The Rockets haven’t missed a beat under first-year head coach Sam Graves, an assistant under former head coach Jason Kirby now at Canton, Graves’ alma mater. They brought back five starters on offense and four on defense, including seniors Dalton McManus and Darren Southwell, who combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing and 190 tackles a year ago.

“The guys have worked really hard to earn this good start to the season. The offseason workouts were well attended, and the team chemistry is really good. These guys love playing for and with each other,” Graves said

Southwell has taken over at quarterback this year, throwing for 1,063 yards and 8 TDs. He has also rushed for 506 yards and 9 touchdowns with McManus gaining 617 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The first thing you notice on film about St. Bede, Graves said, is their size.

“A lot of times, in small school football, teams that have that size won’t be fast, but they also have great skill position guys. So, they do present a big challenge that way,” he said. “We will have to try to limit big plays on defense and try to match their physical play up front. Against a really good team like this, we have to try to do the little things well, like win the special teams battles and the turnover margin.”

It is the first meeting between the two new conference rivals with Rockridge joining the Three Rivers this year from the West Central.

Notes: St. Bede will be inducting its 2013 Hall of Fame Class Eight individuals will be honored in the 2013 Hall of Fame ceremonies at St. Bede Academy at 10 a.m. Saturday as part of the Homecoming festivities.

This year’s class includes three inductees posthumously: Leroy Herrmann (Class of 1926), James Piletic (Class of 1952) and Thomas Heitmann (Class of 2002).

Also to be inducted are former Bruins athletes Tom Vallero (Class of 1963), Brad Koster (Class of 1988), Dr. Paul Perona (Class of 1991) and Chris Lushina (Class of 1991). In addition, newly retired WLPO sports director Lanny Slevin will be honored as a friend/supporter of the Academy as well for receiving the IHSA’s Distinguished Media Service Award.

“Lanny has been a good supporter of St. Bede sending all of his children here and a great ambassador for high school sports and the athletes of the Illinois Valley,” McGunnigal said. “He is the classiest voice in Illinois radio, and we are proud to have him as a part of our Hall of Fame and to be able to present him this award on this great stage.”

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