The Lyons Township High School football team didn’t win a home game last fall until the final day of the regular season.
The Lions made sure their fans didn’t have to wait that long this season.
Leonard Ross scored three touchdowns and the defense forced four turnovers as the Lions blanked Leyden 45-0 in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd in the 2014 home opener Friday night at Bennett Field.
LTHS (2-1) has a winning record after three games for the first time since 2010 and a two-game winning streak heading into what will be a tough conference schedule.
“That was nice,” Ross said. “I think that boosted the team’s confidence a whole lot.
“I understand it was Leyden; some people underestimate them because they’re not an elite team, but I still think that motivated [the Lions]. We know what we can do now potentially.”
The big-play potential was on display on both sides of the ball for the Lions, who raced out to a 35-0 halftime lead following Tom Fiedler’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Emmett Corrigan and rested their starters in the second half.
That included Ross. The star running back touched the ball only five times but rushed for 70 yards, including touchdown runs of 15, 27 and 7 yards.
“It was very nice, especially for me personally because I’m a little banged up,” Ross said. “So it was nice to do what I had to do today for the team and then get out and have a rest, let the rest of the team do the rest of the work.”
The rest of the Lions did plenty of work, especially the defense, which limited the Eagles (0-3) to 163 yards of offense, all but 41 of which came after intermission.
As if the rain and unseasonable chill weren’t enough for him to deal with, Leyden quarterback Tom Pajor spent most of the game being harassed by LTHS’s defensive line led Dante Stefanini, Andrew Ostrowski, Charlie Herbert and Frankie Walsh.
The Lions sacked Pajor three times and intercepted three passes. Pajor was just 6-for-17 for 59 yards.
“Coach [Kurt Weinberg] was really big on worrying about the screen,” Stefanini said. “We knew this was a passing team so we really wanted to shut them down in that regard and I think we did just that. We trusted in our coaching and it brought us a victory.”
Danny O’Malley, Liam Held, and Steven Heim had interceptions for LTHS, with Heim’s end zone grab and subsequent 52-yard return on the final play preserving the Lions’ first shutout in two years.
That was an encouraging sign for a defense that so far has been better at stopping the run than the pass. The Eagles rushed 17 times in the first half but netted just one yard against the first-string defense.
“We’re a very good run defense,” Stefanini said. “I feel that once we get enough pressure on the quarterback, we start getting some turnovers and receivers start hearing some footsteps. I think that’s really when they have to figure something else out, so they switch up their game plan and even when they do we’ll be ready for that.”
The special teams also shone, as Ryan Kelly blocked a punt and Jaquan Phipps returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 21-0 lead after the first quarter. Kicker Joe Bruni booted a 32-yard field goal in addition to making all six of his extra-point tries.
“I guess we lifted the curse on our field,” Stefanini said. “We have great support from the student body. We haven’t seen a crowd like that in a long time so it’s really promising.”