The biggest reason Boylan football beat Hillcrest and made itself a title contender

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star
Boylan's Ryan Starck breaks up a pass in Saturday's 31-0 playoff win over Hillcrest. Boylan's pass defense has held QBs to a 30.8 passer rating on the season.

ROCKFORD — Connor Dennis now has a Boylan-record 24 touchdown passes this season.

But he is not the main reason the Titans football team looks like a state title contender in Class 5A.

Boylan went 3-and-out on its first three possessions Saturday until Mekhi Glover started running through tackles. He finished with 108 yards and two TDs in Boylan’s 31-0 victory over Country Club Hills Hillcrest.

But Glover is not the main reason Boylan (9-1) won again.

The NIC-10 champions win, more than anything else, with their pass defense. A record seven NIC-10 QBs threw for 1,000 yards this year. But no one threw well against Boylan. Under the NFL passer rating system, the lowest you can go without throwing an interception is 39.6. Well, Boylan’s defense has held all opposing QBs to a cumulative 30.8 rating.

More:Analyzing one of the most heartbreaking playoff defeats in NIC-10 football history

And they’ve been even better against their five opponents who made the playoffs, with a combined cumulative rating of 26.1 after Hillcrest went 6-for-19 for 56 yards and two interceptions Saturday.

“We attack the ball,” said Ryan Starck, who had the first of two Boylan safeties to give the Titans a 2-0 lead late in the first quarter. “We love to see teams pass. We love to play pass defense. And it’s good for the defensive linemen to get sacks.”

Boylan tackled three different Hillcrest quarterbacks for a total of seven times.

“The defensive line has done well against the pass all year,” Boylan coach John Cacciatore said. “Coach (Ryan Zarembski) does a great job of timing and calling his blitzes, getting one of those little weasels through a gap to make a play.”

Boylan’s blitzers would sometimes miss a big play. And then still get it. Leading only 16-0 late in the third quarter, Luca Caravello had a clean shot at the quarterback but saw him duck out of his grasp. Caravello still managed to run him down from behind for a sack.

“That was awesome,” defensive lineman Max Montoya said. “Luca missed. Then I had him but missed. And then I saw Luca come back and get it.

“That’s another thing. The whole team never gives up. Whenever we miss a tackle, we get back up and go after it.”

The Titans did that again early in the fourth quarter. Hillcrest's backup quarterback Cameron Young-Love somehow slipped away from three separate sack attempts. Only to still be swarmed by three more Titans in a group sack just inside the right sideline.

More:Rockford's top performers for the first round of the IHSA football playoffs

It was like that all day for Hillcrest (5-5), which had gotten off to an encouraging start, rushing for 51 yards on the game-opening drive.

“We got some things going running-wise, but we couldn’t get anything going passing-wise to complement it,” Hillcrest coach Kyran Weaver said. “They really rattled us. They played disciplined in the coverage area and they put heat on us up front.”

And once Boylan established that Hillcrest couldn’t pass, the Hawks couldn’t run either. They gained 51 yards on their first six runs and 45 on their last 26 attempts — bolstered by one 30-yard run.

“Man, it’s way better when we just have to focus on the run,” Boylan defensive back Austin Alonzo said.

“When we shut down the pass,” defensive back/receiver Santana English said, “that makes things a lot more easy. Our guys up front in the box make plays and then we keep doing it in the secondary.”

Boylan's Ryan Stark makes a tackle against Hillcrest on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, at Boylan High School in Rockford.

Don’t forget about the linebackers. Jack Kerno had two sacks, forced a fumble and returned an interception 20 yards. Connor (11-for-22 for 112 yards) threw a 20-yard TD to Rasheed Johnson on the next play for a 16-0 lead.

“It feels like he is in on every single play,” Montoya said of Kerno. “He is either blocking the ball down or in on a pick.”

More:Where and when Rockford-area teams play in the 2022 IHSA football playoffs

Safety Mark Harris had a first-quarter interception that was a perfect illustration of how Boylan’s parts work in unison defending the pass. Two Boylan linemen applied heavy pressure on the play and defensive back Sonny Jass tipped the pass into Harris’ arms.

Boylan plays next week at LaGrange Nazareth, a 6-4 team that averages 190 yards a game passing and beat Glenbrook South 48-22. The Titans have now allowed only 825 passing in 10 games. In reality, it has been less than half of that, as the Titans also have 360 yards in interception returns and 100 yards in sacks.

“We’re good all around,” Montoya said, “but pass rushing is our strong suit. It’s so much fun every single time. I love rushing the quarterback. That’s my thing. We get in off the edge and don’t give quarterbacks much time to throw.”

Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and three years covering the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.

Not coming to pass

Here is a look at Boylan's pass defense numbers in the 2022 season:

All games6917282561530.8
Vs. 5 playoff teams37943613826.1