By James Kay
All of last week, Fenwick's football team found itself surrounded by the unknown. The status of the first round of the playoffs was up in the air due to the CPS teacher strikes. Then the team lost its head coach due to his involvement in a 2016 IHSA violation.
Despite the odds, Fenwick (6-4) pulled off a major upset over undefeated Walter Payton High School (8-1-1) in a 20-17 thriller on Nov. 2.
"All week, [the players] have shown their will to overcome adversity," said interim head coach Titcus Pettigrew. "This has been a real up-and-down week for them as well as the coaches, [athletic director], principal. … We have been through a lot. But these kids showed grit and did everything you could ask from a 15- or 16-year-old young man."
First Quarter: After both teams failed to score on their opening offensive possessions, Payton used a 12-play drive to take an early 7-0 lead. In a two-back set out of shotgun, WPHS quarterback Sage Shindler threw a screen to running back Damian Goodman who broke a tackle at the line, weaved his way to the sideline, broke a tackle at the seven-yard line, and found the endzone with 2:52 left in the first.
Fenwick responded with a relentless attack from the run game. Running back Danny Kent had his way with the Grizzlies' defense and put his team in position to score on the 1-yard line as time ran out in the first quarter.
Second Quarter: After a 1-yard loss on first and goal, quarterback Kaden Cobb faked a draw play out of the shotgun, moved to his left, and dove into the endzone untouched to even the score. The defense shut down the Grizzlies' offense on the next possession to force another three and out.
After a meager 18-yard punt put Fenwick at the their own 43-yard line, Cobb completed three of four pass attempts on the Friars' seven-play scoring drive. On 3rd and 8 at the Grizzlies' 27 yard line, Walter Payton's defense forced Cobb to move to his right. Wide receiver Brian Moore adjusted his route and Cobb throwing across his body, hit Moore by the right pylon for a 27-yard touchdown.
With less than two minutes left in the half, WPHS moved the ball to the 35 yard line. On 4th and 6, the Friars' defensive line brought heavy pressure on Shindler. In one-on-one coverage, he threw a lob to the endzone, but it was batted down by Fenwick DB Solomon Singleton.
Fenwick threatened to score again with 1:47 left in the half when Cobb threw an erratic pass at the WPHS 32-yard line to avoid getting hit. It was intercepted at the 22-yard line but the Grizzlies didn't have time to capitalize on the turnover.
Third Quarter: The Friars opened the second half starting on the 29-yard line. After long runs by Kent and Cobb, Fenwick found itself on the 13 yard line threatening to take a two-possession lead. However, they were forced to take a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty before being stuffed by the Grizzly defense for a 3-yard loss. On 2nd and 13, Cobb locked on to his first option and almost threw an interception, which was dropped by corner Julian Melchor. Kicker Bryan Dowd couldn't salvage the drive after he missed from 30 yards out.
Both teams exchanged punts until WPHS moved the ball to the Friars' 9-yard line with 2:40 left. The Grizzlies got a 24-yard field goal, but fullback Joe Savaiano dropped a pass the play before that would have gone for an easy 6 points.
Fenwick's momentum started shifting the other way after the officials made multiple disputed calls against the Friar defense. At one point, Fenwick's stop on third down was negated when WPHS players and coaches started yelling at an official who threw a flag from the other side of the field from where the play took place.
Fourth Quarter: Fenwick stunted the WPHS offense and found itself with the ball at their own 14-yard line with nine minutes left. On 3rd and 3, Cobb threw another dangerous pass as he was hit, and it was intercepted by corner Damian Goodman who took it to the house to give his team a 17-14 lead.
"As soon as adversity hit us on that pick-six, I knew I had to come back and lead my team," said Cobb. "I owe this to the defense. They played a great game, and I gave it back to them at the end."
The sophomore quarterback kept his composure and drove his team to the 49 yard line. On 3rd and 4, Cobb hit wide receiver Eian Pugh on a hitch route. Pugh shook the corner and ran the ball to the WPHS 5-yard line. On first and goal, Cobb tried to dive in for the touchdown, but the ball went up in the air and somehow ended up back in his hands at the 1-yard line. On the next play he ran it up the middle to give the Friars a 21-17 lead with 5:53 left.
The Grizzlies couldn't recover as they ran three unsuccessful plays, and LB Declan Donnelly blocked WPHS' punt. The Friars ran out the clock in WPHS territory to finish off the upset.
Post-game: "We didn't want an asterisk by this win," said Pettigrew. "We wanted to come out and beat a great team like this and do it on their home field. We played a great football game and [the players] should be proud."
Fenwick will host Hillcrest High School at Triton on Nov. 9 in the second round of the playoffs.