Heading into their regular-season finale at Bennett Field in Western Springs, the Lyons Township and Oak Park and River Forest High School football teams already knew that they were going to the IHSA Class 8A playoffs.
And with Glenbard West having all but clinched the West Suburban Conference Silver Division title already, it might seem that there wasn't anything to particularly play for regarding the Lions and Huskies.
But that's not how this rivalry works.
Add more motivational fuel with the reality both teams endured tough losses the prior week (LTHS dropped a 21-20 decision at Hinsdale Central; OPRF lost to Glenbard West 24-14).
The Lions gained a boost of confidence with an impressive 31-14 win against the Huskies.
LTHS quarterback Ben Bryant had a good all-around performance in his last home regular-season game. The Cincinnati-bound Bryant completed 13 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, while adding two more touchdowns on the ground.
Although there is obvious talent on the OPRF roster, the Huskies (5-4, 2-4) are primarily a young team still prone to inconsistency.
"We believed that if we came in and played mistake-free football, we would be in it at the end. We didn't do that," OPRF coach John Hoerster said. "We made mistakes in all three phases - offense, defense, and special teams. There are so many things we'd love to take back. We also did some things well, but not enough against a good team like Lyons Township."
After the Lions (7-2, 4-2) went three-and-out offensively to start the game, the Huskies embarked on a 16-play drive that took up almost eight minutes and featured patient runs by running backs Terrance Roundy and Keith Robinson. But on 4th-and-2 from the LTHS 14, OPRF quarterback Toby Kunkel was stuffed for no gain.
The Lions countered with a 14-play, 86-yard drive that culminated on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Nate Rusk. Rusk added the PAT to put LTHS on top 7-0 at the 10:30 mark of the second quarter.
After an exchange of interceptions - Kunkel was picked off by Louis Banda, then Bryant by John Mitchell - OPRF took over at its own 6-yard line. Three plays later, the Huskies were in the end zone thanks to a 79-yard scamper by Robinson. However, Henry Darrow missed the extra point, and the Huskies trailed 7-6 with 6:26 left in the first half.
On the Lions' next possession, Bryant did damage with his feet rather than his arm as he engineered a 10-play TD drive that covered 65 yards. He had four carries for 28 yards (and also drew a facemask penalty), including a 1-yard keeper that increased the LTHS lead to 14-6 with 1:59 to go before halftime.
OPRF moved the ball into LTHS territory during a two-minute drill, but Hareson Willis picked off Kunkel's deep ball intended for Trevon Brown at the Lions' 4 to end the half.
Early in the second half, Rusk booted a 37-yard field goal to give the Lions a 17-6 advantage. But on OPRF's next drive, Brown turned a short Kunkel pass into a 65-yard TD after dancing past a couple of LTHS defenders. Robinson added a 2-point conversion out of the Wildcat formation to bring the Huskies within 17-14.
But as they did after the Huskies' first score, the Lions responded with a lengthy scoring march. Tyrone Smith had several good short runs on the 15-play, 72-yard drive that was capped by another Bryant TD run, this time from four yards out. Rusk's point-after made it 24-14 Lions with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.
J.J Dutton picked off Kunkel on the Huskies' next drive at the LTHS 43. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Bryant threw a 55-yard TD pass that proved to be the nail in the coffin. Rusk's PAT boosted the Lions' lead to 31-14 and concluded the scoring.
"LT ran a pretty creative formation on that play, and we lost sight of the backside tight end," Hoerster said. "They execute well and have good football players. And if you don't get pressure and receivers are open, Bryant is going to hit them."
Bryant finished the night by going 13-for-20 for 220 yards with two TD passes. He added 40 yards rushing and 2 TDs on 10 carries. Smith contributed 51 yards on 18 carries and Brandon Fischer had 5 receptions for 93 yards for LTHS.
LTHS hosts Curie on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in opening-round action of the 8A playoffs.