It’s safe to say that the Lions reached an ultimate low by halftime of their West Suburban (Silver) Conference opener Friday night at Bennett Field.
Trailing Oak Park and River Forest 14-3, Lyons Township, which came into the game with a 0-2 record, managed only 43 total yards on offense?”all on the ground.
To go 0-3 seemed inevitable. LT’s only points of the first half came on Mike Cklamovski’s 51-yard field goal at the 3:46 mark of the second quarter. Cklamovski missed from the same distance two minutes earlier.
But the Lions had other plans and quickly put them into action, scoring 22 unanswered points on the way to a 25-14 victory.
“Mentally, this was huge for our kids,” said LT coach Jack Derning. “We always thought we could move the ball on them if we would just get things straightened out.”
There was nothing complicated about this turn-around?”just plenty of soul-searching in-between halves.
“We were all pretty upset about being 0-2 to start the season,” said tight end Nick Pavilonis. “So we came out hard, thought about where we wanted to take the season and start conference.”
Pavilonis had a lot to do with the comeback, catching two touchdown passes from quarterback Mike Bellisario on two very similar plays. The first of these scores came on the opening drive of the second half. On second-and-10 from the OPRF 40-yard-line, Bellisario hit a streaking, wide-open Pavilonis up the middle near the 30. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder sprinted into the end zone untouched at the 9:03 mark of the third quarter. Running back Tyrand Williams ran in the 2-point conversion to cut the Huskies’ lead to 14-11.
The call to go to Pavilonis came after Derning and his assistants spotted a trend in the Huskies’ defensive schemes: They were jamming players into the box and placing more coverage on the split side of the field, leaving the tight end position open for a downfield strike.
But schemes embodied a small percentage of the Huskies’ second-half woes. LT took advantage of a flurry of OPRF mistakes, penalties (which accounted for roughly 75 yards on the game, 35 in the second half) and turnovers (three total on the game, two in the second half).
The Huskies drove to the LT 6, but failed to reach the end zone and missed a field goal with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter.
Perhaps the most costly of OPRF’s penalties came with 26.3 seconds left in the third quarter. The Huskies were whistled for roughing the passer on an incomplete passing play on third-and-12 from the Lions’ 18, giving LT a first-and-10 on the 34. Six plays later, running back Neal Loftus grabbed Bellisario’s option pitch just as the quarterback was hit and sprinted down the LT sideline for a 27-yard TD run, giving his team the lead. Mike Cklamovski’s extra point made the score 18-14 at the 9:17 mark of the fourth quarter.
A miscue on the ensuing kickoff led to an OPRF fumble, which Williams scooped up at the Huskies’ 10. (The Huskies also fumbled away a punt return in the second quarter.)
Bellisario and Pavilonis practically repeated their third-quarter TD scheme on the next play. This time the quarterback called an audible when he saw the Huskies’ defense line up in a similar fashion and found Pavilonis in the end zone in loose single coverage with 9:03 remaining in the game. Cklamovski nailed the extra point to boost the LT lead to 25-14.
“[Bellisario] made a great read,” said Pavilonis, describing his second TD catch. “I’m just one of the options. It depends on the defense and what kind of look they give us.”
The Lions racked up 150 total yards on offense in the second half. The Huskies amassed 121 total yards on offense in the first half, but only 54 in the second half. They also completed one pass on six attempts in the second frame.
LT continues West Suburban (Silver) play Friday night at York (2-1, 1-0 in conference). Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.