Jack O’Malley had never intercepted a pass in his varsity career.
The 5-11, 140-pound senior cornerback snagged two Friday night, including a pick-six that shifted the momentum and sparked the Lyons Township High School football team to a come-from-behind 25-21 road victory over Willowbrook in Villa Park.
The Lions (1-1) trailed 21-10 late in the third quarter and had just missed a 27-yard field goal attempt when O’Malley intercepted a pass from Willowbrook quarterback Billy Degnan and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. Leonard Ross then ran in the two-point conversion to pull the Lions within 21-18 with 1:01 to go in the quarter.
“We were saying our defense needed to score because our offense wasn’t putting it in,” O’Malley said. “So I was running back, saw the ball, grabbed it and saw the open field to the left and took it in.”
Willowbrook, which outgained LTHS 430-366, marched to the Lions’ 15 before passing up a 32-yard field goal try. Jonathan Diaz then stuffed David Harris for a one-yard loss on 4th-and-2.
But the Lions went three-and-out on their next possession and didn’t get the ball back until there was 4:22 left in the game. That’s when they drove 85 yards in 11 plays and took the lead on a 2-yard run by Ross with 1:18 remaining.
It was the second touchdown of the night for Ross, who carried 28 times for 128 yards, 32 of which came on the last drive.
The LTHS defense then forced four straight incompletions to clinch a much-needed victory.
“We just try to do our best and we pushed through and made it,” O’Malley said.
Degnan shredded the LTHS defense seemingly at will, completing 27 of 50 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns. But he was also picked off three times, once in the first quarter by Ryan Johnson, who promptly lost a fumble on the return.
The other came on the final play of the first half. The Warriors (0-2) had a first down at the LTHS 10 but Charlie Herbert sacked Degnan for a six-yard loss, forcing a timeout with 8.1 seconds left.
Rather than try a game-tying 33-yard field goal, the Warriors opted to have Degnan throw a fade to 6-5, 217-pound receiver Kyle Rushing in the left corner of the end zone.
Rushing had a huge night with 10 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown, but O’Malley beat him to the ball and came down with it as time expired to preserve a 10-7 lead.
“I think they look at that matchup with [Rushing] and our smaller DBs and think might as well take a shot,” LTHS coach Kurt Weinberg said. “They’re a roll-of-the-dice kind of team so that’s what they’re going to do.
“But Jack did a great job. That was a huge play. [Rushing] is a big boy so to go up and get that ball was an impressive play.”
The LTHS offense was less impressive but got the job done when it needed to. Tom Fiedler completed 9 of 15 passes for 154 yards. He connected with running back Michael Kirksy on throws of 19 and 25 yards on the decisive drive and finished with 92 yards rushing on 19 carries.
While the Warriors had great success passing, they weren’t able to chew up the clock as the Lions held them to 79 yards on the ground. LTHS sacked Degnan five times, with lineman Dante Stefanini getting two and Giuseppe Rallo and Jeremy DiMonte the others.
“The defense obviously kept us in it,” Weinberg said. “Offensively we had yards and stuff like that but just sputtered when we got into the scoring zone. Too many negative plays and mistakes, but credit Willowbrook.
“They definitely played well. I thought both defenses gave up some yards but both defenses also made some crucial stops, so I was very impressed.”