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St. Bede’s Brady Booker (No. 36) and Matt Szczepaniak celebrate a play during the Bruins’ 15-14 loss Friday in Peru. The Bruins (5-4) snuck into the playoffs as the 255th team among the 256 playoff qualifiers. St. Bede travels to Winnebago for a Class 3A first-round game at 7 p.m. Friday. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
St. Bede (5-4) at 3A No. 2 Winnebago (9-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday
Radio: WLPO-AM 1220, WLPO-FM 103.9, WSOG-FM 88.1
Last week’s results: Sherrard 15, St. Bede 14; Winnebago 26, Stillman Valley 20
SBA players to watch: QB Jack Brady (1,737 yards, 17 TDs this season), RB/DB Justin Shaw (1,152 total yards, 13 TDs this season), FB/LB Michael Bellino (432 yards, 8 TDs this season).
WHS players to watch: RB Michael Pate (776 yards, 8 TDs this season), RB Sean Ward (683 yards, 12 TDs this season), QB Ryan Swigart (881 yards, 11 TDs this season)
When the junior quarterback for the St. Bede football team left the Academy after Friday’s Week 9 loss to Sherrard, he thought the season was over.
Then Saturday’s surprise playoff announcement came.
“I was with (junior teammate) Sam Halm (Saturday) when I saw we made it, and we just both looked at each other like, ‘What?!?!’” Brady said. “We knew then that we had a new season coming our way, and now it’s a whole new ballgame.”
The Bruins have a second life.
As the 255th of the 256 playoff qualifiers, St. Bede will take its second chance to Winnebago on Friday as the Bruins will play the Indians at 7 p.m. in a Class 3A first-round playoff game.
“I really felt the season was over,” SBA coach John Bellino said. “The way I had done (the playoff scenarios) I thought we needed to win (in Week 9), so that loss was just a heartbreaker for us.
“When we found out we made it, I thought to myself, ‘We know where we’re going to go but I wonder if we’re really going to go there or not?’ Well, sure enough, we’re going to Winnebago.”
St. Bede — which is 5-4 and the No. 16 seed in the northern half of the bracket — will make its fourth straight playoff appearance and its 11th appearance in the last 15 years.
Winnebago went 9-0 and won the Big Northern Conference West Division with a Week 9 win over rival Stillman Valley. It is the No. 1 seed and was the No. 2-ranked team in Wednesday’s final Associated Press Class 3A Poll.
The Indians — who are making their fifth straight playoff appearance and sixth in the last seven years — are a power football team who can run out of the I-formation.
So far this season, Winnebago had rushed for 2,731 yards, or 303.4 yards per game.
On the ground, the Indians are led by running back Michael Pate, who has rushed for a team-high 776 yards to go with eight touchdowns.
Running back Sean Ward also is a threat as he has a team-high 112 carries for 683 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns.
“In this league, you have to run to be successful so we feel that puts us in the best place to succeed,” Winnebago coach Mark Helm said. “And if we can run the football, we can use the play-action later.”
Quarterback Ryan Swigart also is a threat as he has thrown for 881 yards and 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
“Obviously, they are a great offensive football team,” Bellino said. “They’re big, strong and fast, and defensively they are going to come at us, but we feel that we can do some things, and if we can hang close you never know, just like (last) Friday night. If you can hang close and make a play at the end, you never know.”
The Bruins enter the 10th week of the season as healthy as they’ve been in recent weeks.
St. Bede is led by Brady, who has thrown for 1,737 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Junior running back Justin Shaw has run for 675 yards and eight touchdowns, while senior fullback Michael Bellino has rushed for 432 yards and eight scores.
“From seeing them on film, they have some real nice skill people and they run a good offense,” Helm said. “They spread you out. They are very balanced run to pass, so they propose some challenges as far as defending what they do.”
The youthful Bruins — who start just two seniors — are happy to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs, but know they need to move on from Saturday’s whirlwind.
“I thought it was going to be hard to refocus, but you just have to forget about it, period,” Brady said. “You can’t have anymore remembrance of it. It’s done and it’s over. It’s a new time.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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