CHICAGO —The Providence football team doesn't perceive itself as a middle of the road of the program.
But that's pretty much what it was last season in a campaign that ended at the .500 mark and with a resounding loss in the opening round of the playoffs.
However, it's becoming more and more clear that the Celtics are determined to make last year a blip on the radar and Friday's 34-22 victory over host Brother Rice allowed them to climb yet another rung on the ladder back to where they want to be.
"We knew we could execute, we knew they were a great team and that we were both great teams and whoever played the best game would win," Providence quarterback Kevin Conway said. "We knew we had all the talent, we just had to put it together and show people what we could do."
Things started on the wrong foot for the Celtics where its first drive went backwards and ended with a Brother Rice safety, but after that initial surge from the Crusaders extremely talented defensive line, Providence figured out a way to rein them in.
On Providence's first drive of the second quarter, the Celtics caught a break when Lucas Porto caught a deflected ball for a 42-yard gain on a play that looked as if it may end in an interception. Buoyed by their good fortune, Conway would score from five yards out two plays later the Celtics a lead.
They would keep that momentum going on their next possession taking advantage of a short field to cap a scoring drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Conway to Porto to build Providence's lead to 14-2. But that expansive lead wouldn't last long as Brother Rice's talented junior running back Willie Shaw took a short pass in the flat and turned it into a 75-yard score.
While Brother Rice closed the gap with the Shaw score, they couldn't never quite get over the hump and that was partly due to an opportunistic Providence secondary. Kevin Countryman's ability to perfectly anticipate where the ball might end up netted him a 12-yard interception return for a score early in third quarter, and the Celtics ended up with three interceptions in the game.
"I knew they were going to throw repeaters, which basically means they run one play and they go right back to it," Countryman said. "They weren't throwing a lot of hitches and I was kind of wondering why and they got me right before the half for like five yards so I was like I am going to wait for it. Then they ran it again and I saw the quarterback's eyes and I just jumped it right away."
Shaw had another attempt at an answer by breaking away for a 78-yard score, but the back breaker came when the Celtics pieced together a long drive that ended in the third Conway touchdown of the game from 11 yards.
"As a group, maybe we started to wear them down a little bit," Providence coach Mark Coglianese said. "To come here, and win on this field, its a big notch for a program. We've got a lot of returning guys and they've got a lot of pride and I think that showed tonight."