Fire

Suffocating defense gives St. Rita shutout win

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Suffocating defense gives St. Rita shutout win

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 11:50 p.m.
By Pat DiSabato
YourSeason.com

St. Ritas defense was its best offense Friday night.Ryan Leonard and Max Kurucar each returned interceptions for touchdowns to guide No. 4 St. Rita to a 19-0 win over Providence in a Catholic League Blue battle on Chicagos South Side.St. Rita totaled five interceptions on the night, but Leonards and Kurucars were the show-stoppers.Our defense has been doing it all year long, St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. Were not there yet offensively, but were getting better.Kurucars pick-six covered 68 yards and extended the Mustangs lead to 12-0 at 8:40 of the third quarter.Leonards return put the finishing touches on the victory. The 5-foot-11 senior stepped in front of quarterback Jake Godfreys pass deep in Celtics territory and scampered 22 yards for the score. Connor Gilroys point-after kick made it 19-0 with just 4:48 left to play.Leonards first pick, in the opening quarter, set up John Kellys 42-yard field goal that gave St. Rita (4-1, 2-0) a 3-0 lead at 4:32. Kellys 25-yard field goal on the Mustangs first series of the second half upped the margin to 6-0 at 9:46 of the third quarter.Our special teams did really well, too, Kuska said. Our kicking game was outstanding.Charles Elmore had the other interception for St. Rita.For Providence (3-2, 0-2), Godfrey finished 6 of 15 for 109 yards in substituting for the injured Chris Salazar. The Celtics ground game totaled 89 yards on the night.Those numbers, however, were superior to St. Ritas output, particularly on the ground. The Mustangs had just 31 yards on 19 carries. St. Rita was without starting running back Mike Zunica and guard Kevin Pergande, both of whom are injured.St. Rita quarterback Scott Thomas was 7 of 16 for 52 yards and was picked off twice, both times by Troy Sheppard.The Celtics defensive front line of Mike Hryn, Nick Cemeno, Vincent Ambrose and Jack Klyczek contributed mightily to the Mustangs offensive woes. But St. Ritas defense was even better, led by its opportunistic secondary and stalwarts Will McNamara, Patrick OConnor and Ricky Valadez.We made some correctable mistakes on offense, Kuska said. Im confident that were going to start progressing on offense. We didnt capitalize on some opportunities. But, hey, anytime you can get a W its a good game. Providence is a good football team, and it was a physical game. We just want to keep getting better.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16