Entering Friday night’s season opener, the Fenwick High School football players knew they had their hands full against Phillips (which finished 10-2 last season and state runner-up in the Class 4A playoffs). The Friars, a quarterfinalist in the 7A state playoffs last season, hung tough with Phillips for 24 minutes trailing only 20-16 at halftime.

Unfortunately, the quick-strike Wildcats scored on consecutive possessions in the third quarter and 20 unanswered points overall in the second half en route to a 40-16 victory at Mandrake Park in Chicago.

“(Phillips) is a really good team,” Fenwick coach Gene Nudo said. “They’re going to give people a lot of trouble this year. We have a long way to go but we’ll be alright. We know where we need to get to. I’m proud of the way our kids played against a very good football team.”

Trailing Phillips 20-6 with 2:32 left in the second quarter, Fenwick made a couple of big plays to get right back in the game. Senior linebacker Brian Doyle intercepted a pass by Phillips quarterback Quayvon Skanes in the end zone. The Friars consolidated that turnover by scoring on a double-pass play when junior quarterback Jacob Keller tossed a throwback pass to fullback Gavin Graves who then hit junior wide receiver Sherman Martin on an 80-yard touchdown connection.

“Gavin threw a strike to Sherman and he did a nice job with it,” Nudo said. “Sherman knows what to do once you get him open.”

Kicker Conor Hendzel added a 35-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to pull Fenwick within 20-16.

The Wildcats regained the momentum with their aforementioned third quarter scoring spurt, which included Kamari Mosby’s 82-yard touchdown run and Skanes’ 31-yard touchdown pass to Qadeer Weatherly. Skanes accounted for four touchdowns (2 passing, 2 rushing) while the explosive Mosby racked up 175 yards on 22 carries.

Graves scored the Friars’ first touchdown of the season on a 4-yard run to tie the score at 6-6 with 10:44 left in the second quarter.

Although the Friars struggled at times on both sides of the ball, senior running back Will Lattner put the loss in perspective.

“We had a couple of good runs,” he said. “When they blitzed us, they left the field wide open so I broke out a couple of times. I thought we had some good passes as well.

“We have to watch the film and correct our mistakes. We just have to move forward and put this one behind us.”

Making his first varsity start, Fenwick quarterback Jacob Keller completed 10 of 27 passes for 111 yards. He also had 11 carries for 28 yards. Lattner rushed 16 times for 47 yards and caught three passes for 41 yards. Martin played well with four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, while tight end Jack Henige finished with three catches for 46 yards. The Friars never established their running game as the Wildcats limited them to 109 yards rushing on 39 carries.

Defensively, junior linebacker Brett Moorman led Fenwick with eight tackles and Doyle had four tackles and an interception. Casey O’Laughlin and Adam Williams chipped in four tackles apiece.

Friday’s loss marked the first time the Friars have dropped their season opener since Nudo took over the program in 2012.

“This feeling will stick with us,” Nudo said. “I don’t like being 0-1. It’s going to be a good week of work and we just have to work on improving our skills.”

Fenwick hosts Bowen (another tough Chicago Public League opponent) on Friday, Sept. 4 at Hoffman Stadium on the Morton West campus. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.