This game is different.
The Bishop Fenwick football team spent the last two seasons preparing for a game like this. The Crusaders took a leap last year, moving on from a team with promise to a winning team, but this fall they have that feel — the feel of a team that knows how to win big games.
Tomorrow night under the lights of Fenwick’s Donaldson Field, the Crusaders will battle Austin Prep in an undefeated showdown that will go a long way in deciding the Catholic Central League championship.
The 4-0 Cougars surprised some with their fast start, notably their 22-14 win over St. Mary’s a couple weeks ago, but they won’t be sneaking up on Fenwick.
This group of Crusaders is battle tested. They took some shots and learned many lessons two years ago when they went 3-8. They reversed that record last year (8-3), but still learned some more hard lessons.
Now, after a 42-20 road win over Cardinal Spellman last week, it seems like Fenwick is ready to take the next step.
“We talk about this as a staff, (two years ago) we were starting to lay some groundwork. We were 3-8, but we played some great football. We were just overmatched sometimes,” Fenwick coach Dave Woods said. “Last year they learned how to win. After a bunch of down years, it takes awhile to learn and we learned how. Last Thanksgiving against Austin Prep we were down two touchdowns and we kept fighting and scored with 30 seconds left.”
Fenwick was expected to contend for the league title a year ago, but suffered a heart-breaking loss to St. Mary’s by fumbling the ball away on the Spartans goal line. They followed that with a carry-over loss to Archbishop Williams the next week before reeling off three straight CCL wins to close the year.
That lesson, though difficult at the time, helped prepare the Crusaders for bigger things this season.
“It’s in the past and we left it there,” Fenwick running back/defensive end Rufus Rushins said. “We’ve moved way past it.”
Rushins is one of many reasons why the Crusaders are prepared to take the next step.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior has already rushed for 698 yards and 11 touchdowns through four games. He’s running hard, looking to punish his opponents, and wearing them down in the process.
Against Cardinal Spellman last week, Fenwick led by two touchdowns and switched to the Power I with Rushins running behind David Hurley (6-1, 210) and Brandon DeBerardinis (6-1, 225).
Rushins got many carries out of that formation and carried the Crusaders home, helping them kill most of the fourth quarter clock.
It’s just one more option Fenwick’s opponents have to worry about.
“I honestly think we can run anything and everything. We can give you plenty of different looks,” Rushins said. “We have so much talent and can do so many things. We’re harder to defend. Last year we got a little taste of winning and this year we know how to keep it alive. We’re more experienced and we worked hard in the offseason. We know how to be 11 acting as one.”
Fenwick needs 11 players acting as one, shooting for one common goal tomorrow night against a team like Austin Prep.
“They’re a tough, physical team that’s well coached. They know what they’re doing and don’t kill themselves. They don’t take stupid penalties and you better be on top of your game, no matter what,” Woods said. “They run the same offense they’ve always run. They only run a handful of plays, but what they do run they run very well. You have to be a good, disciplined defense or they’re going to beat you.”
Fenwick has been disciplined this year and the depth is as good as Woods can remember.
Defensively, in addition to Rushins and Nick Bona, the Crusaders have been getting excellent contributions from Hurley and James Traversey at linebacker and Tommy Parsons at cornerback.
Senior captain Charlie St. Pierre and sophomore Justice Andrade have been standouts on the offensive line.
“We had 29 guys at practice today and I’m sure there are 27 or 28 of them that it would be no problem for them to play,” Woods said. “It makes for great, spirited practices. We do things we haven’t been able to do in years. We tell them to do it and they know what to do. It’s a nice luxury.”