After missing the football season opener, Lyons Township High School senior linebacker/tight end Noah Pfafflin was beyond motivated for Friday’s home opener against Wheaton Warrenville South.
Pfafflin drew additional inspiration by writing RK 47 near his right wrist in tribute to good friend Ryan Keeler.
Keeler, 20, a 2021 Nazareth Academy graduate and redshirt football player at UNLV, died Feb. 23 of a heart condition.
“He was a lot older but I worked out with him (at BASE Right Fit La Grange) and knew him growing up,” Pfafflin said. “He was a mentor to me.”
Pfafflin and the Lions’ defense delivered for an important 13-0 shutout victory in Western Springs.
Leading 7-0, the Lions (1-1) made a huge third-quarter stand after WW South (1-1) reached the 12-yard line. LTHS then marched 80 yards with senior Jack McQueeney scoring his second touchdown on an 8-yard run.
McQueeney, a returning starter at wide receiver and new starter at safety, earlier completed a wild 24-yard TD pass play with senior quarterback Ryan Jackson 57.4 seconds before the half.
“Everyone played their hearts out. There were times guys would get tired going both ways but everyone just grinded and stuck it out and did their job,” said Pfafflin, who will play at Colgate.
“Coming out first game here, Senior Night, home game, electric crowd, it really added everything together. I wanted to show everyone that I’m a dog on this team and we can turn our season around.”
Pfafflin (9 tackles, 4 for loss) and senior lineman and Illinois recruit Eddie Tuerk were relentless. They combined for five sacks with Ian Gamino (team-high 10 tackles), Kellen Knop and Roman Sosnovyy.
The prospects of last year’s Class 8A quarterfinalists starting 0-2 were concerning. The Lions begin West Suburban Conference Silver Division play at home Friday against rival Hinsdale Central (0-2).
“This was kind of a must-win game for us because we know what’s ahead for us,” said LTHS coach Jon Beutjer, who was a star quarterback at WW South. “I think our kids felt that a little bit in the beginning, almost playing not to lose. Then we finally settled down a little bit and came into our own.”
The first half was a near standoff. The Lions had 128 yards but 52 came during three consecutive pass attempts to score.
Jackson hit senior Caleb Greer for 28 yards to the Tigers’ 39. The next throw, intended for Travis Stamm, resulted in a pass interference penalty.
On the TD pass, Jackson rolled right, scrambled, and broke free to find a wide-open McQueeney along the left sideline at the 13. McQueeney beat the Tigers’ charging defender to the end zone.
“Ryan’s insane. Just an awesome play by Ryan. I hardly had to do any work,” McQueeney said.
“I had some linemen at me so I had to make a move,” Jackson added. “I feel like I utilized my legs well and made sure to look down the field as I’m scrambling. My linemen did a great job blocking.”
After 65 yards in the first half, the Tigers used a 46-yard pass to reach the LT 13 in the third quarter.
The Tigers went to the 12 before a holding penalty trying to stop another Lions’ pass rush. After a 9-yard pass to the 13, Pfafflin’s sack left the Tigers at the 22. They missed a 29-yard field goal.
“We worked really hard to bring a lot of energy to practice and that definitely translated to our defense on the field,” Pfafflin said. “Me and Eddie have been playing together on the edge since the youth days. Having that translate into our senior year of football is really awesome.”
Jackson was 12-for-23 passing for 155 yards, Greer caught five passes for 84 yards.
McQueeney rushed for 101 yards — all in the second half — with 54 on the TD drive. He found out three days earlier he’d play running back with Dylan Rickman because of an injury.
“It was kind of a last-second plan. A great opportunity to get some handoffs,” McQueeney said. “It was just a great team win.”