The Lyons Township High School football team is in an uncomfortable but familiar position entering Week 8 of the regular season. Due to a 49-35 loss at Oak Park and River Forest last Friday, the Lions (3-4, 1-3) must win their remaining two games against York and Proviso West to qualify for the playoffs.
In 2013, LTHS faced the exact same scenario and defeated the Dukes and Panthers en route to a fifth straight postseason appearance under coach Kurt Weinberg.
While making the playoffs has been tricky for LTHS, particularly the past three seasons, the Lions become dangerous once the “second season” begins. Weinberg guided LTHS to three straight quarterfinal appearances in the state playoffs from 2010 to 2012.
LTHS running back Leonard Ross ran for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries against OPRF (6-1, 4-1). Ross’ stellar performance coupled with the Lions’ 35 points on the scoreboard and the Huskies’14 penalties for 110 yards seemed like a recipe for success. Unfortunately for LTHS, the high-powered Huskies also scored seven touchdowns, including three apiece from Northwestern-bound quarterback Lloyd Yates and prolific running back Antonio Cannon.
“I think we ran the ball well and did a good job overall offensively,” Ross said. “We just didn’t step up our game on the other side of the ball.”
Cannon opened the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown run off left tackle to put OPRF up 7-0 with 2:18 left in the first quarter. After LTHS quarterback Tommy Fiedler scored on a 6-yard run to even the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter, Yates scored the first of his three second-quarter touchdowns on an 11-yard scamper into the end zone, giving OPRF a 14-7 advantage.
Ross tied the game again at 14-14 on an 8-yard run midway through the second quarter. With 2:33 remaining until halftime, Yates scored on a 13-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing possession, the Huskies held LTHS to a three-and-out series and a poor punt which enabled OPRF to set up shop at the Lions’ 42 with 1:34 remaining until the half. Yates capped off a 9-play, 42-yard drive on a 2-yard push into the end zone with 9.8 seconds left to extend the OPRF lead to 28-14 at halftime.
The Lions would not go quietly, however, as Ross scored on the second play of the third quarter with an 85-yard run making the score 28-21.Whereas the first half featured a scoring battle between Yates (18 of 25, 189 yards; 21 carries, 121 yards) and Ross, the second half offered Cannon (21 carries, 152 yards) and Ross trading touchdowns.
“Ross is a good running back,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “There’s a reason why he’s a Division I running back. He’s big, strong and fast with great vision. They have a good quarterback and receivers so defending them can be pretty difficult.”
Cannon scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter, extending the OPRF lead to 35-21. The Lions responded with an impressive 13-play, 85-yard drive, including a successful fake punt for a first down and a 20-yard touchdown run by Ross.
The team traded a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with Fiedler scoring on a 5-yard run (his second touchdown) in the final minute to close out the scoring at 49-35.
The Lions racked up 366 yards offensively with 13 first downs.
“We just have to move on to the next game,” Ross said. “We’re looking forward to the future and we have to get the job done.”
LTHS hosts York on Friday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.