HAMMOND | Washington safety Aaron Cruz found a way to silence his former teammates from St. Francis de Sales on Saturday afternoon.
The sophomore transfer intercepted a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone, the third and final time the Patriots stopped a drive inside their 10-yard-line as part of Washington's 16-0 season-opening victory against neighborhood opponent St. Francis de Sales at Clark High School.
The Patriots won the unofficial East Side bragging rights.
"Playing against my buddies, I felt like a traitor a little bit," Cruz said, who also caught a pass in the win. "But as soon as I went out (on the field), it was war. I felt I had something to prove."
The win was the first season-opening victory for the Patriots in five years, made all the more exciting in that it came against an opposing school located less than two miles away from Washington High School.
"This win is pretty special for us," Patriots coach Jimmy Smith said. "This is the whole idea, when the two schools talked, about rekindling an old rivalry we used to have in the 1970s and 1980s and to bring some excitement to the East Side of Chicago."
The Patriots defense, which held the Pioneers to 27 yards of offense in the first half, intercepted three passes in the final quarter to preserve what had been an 8-point lead for most of the contest.
The Patriots scored on its first possession of the game, putting together a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown sneak by quarterback John Perez. The Patriots did not have the ball in St. Francis de Sales' territory again until Thomas Bulmer intercepted a pass on the Pioneer 24-yard-line with less than two minutes to play in the game.
Two plays later, leading rusher Hector Ochoa (84 yards) ran in from nine yards out for an insurance touchdown in the final minute of the contest.
"I think we too got ahead of ourselves a little bit when we got the lead so quick," Perez said. "We thought we could ease up a bit after that, and that is something we have to fix."
First-year Pioneer coach Wendell Walton was pleased with the performance of his 17-player squad, which had only nine players on the roster as late as last week. The Pioneers were led on offense by sophomore Daniel Abdullah, who rushed for 33 yards.
"I'm real proud of my kids for coming out here and fighting," Walton said. "For every action, there is a reaction, and for some of our kids not knowing what to do out there yet, that put us in a bind."