Lyons Township coach Jack Derning held no illusions about the considerable ability of Oak Park and River Forest running back Levell Coppage. Still, he had to be slightly mystified at how easily the OPRF running back transformed Oak Park Stadium into his own fun house during the Huskies' 35-27 West Suburban (Silver) Conference win on Saturday.
With Lyons (1-2, 0-1 West Suburban Silver) ) struggling to control the line of scrimmage, the 5-foot-8, 160-pound running back employed a "Houdini-esque" running style that overwhelmed the Lions' defense to the tune of 246 rushing yards on 31 carries. The host Huskies amassed over 400 yards of total offense scoring on five of their seven possessions for the game.
Derning, who remembers watching Coppage as a sophomore, credited the elusive running back's effort, but was highly disappointed in the Lions' defensive performance. Similar to their opening game loss against Sandburg, the Lions simply did not play well defensively.
"We tackled poorly and got handled on the line," Derning said. "Give them credit because their skill position kids were better than our kids on defense."
Fortunately for Lyons, the offense has been flourishing under junior quarterback Eddie Viliunas. Since replacing Beau Spreck in the Hinsdale South game, Viliunas has sparked the Lyons offense to score 47 points in slightly over six quarters of football.
"Number 18 is a player," said Derning about Viliunas's recent exploits. "Offensively, we played pretty well. We only punted twice and never got stopped on downs. I'll take those numbers every game."
Viliunas may be an emerging star for the Lions, but it was returning All-conference player Casey McMurray who finished off the Lions' first two scoring drives. McMurray scored on a 5-yard run with 32 seconds left in the first quarter to cut the OPRF lead to 7-6. After the Huskies extended the lead to 14-6, McMurray struck again on a 10-yard run off left tackle to make it a 14-12 score.
With the Lions struggling to contain Coppage and OPRF quarterback Justin Brown (8 rushes for 95 yards, 3 TDs), Viliunas (8-of-13, 157 yards) and company opted to win in a shootout.
Trailing 28-12, the 6-3 junior tossed a couple of passes to Lucas Gacek (5 catches, 62 yards) and Chris Arquilla to move the ball down into scoring territory. At the 1:18 mark of the third quarter, Viliunas culminated the 59-yard offensive march with a 1-yard touchdown run.
"Lyons is a good team that's schooled well," said OPRF coach Jim Nudera. "They have a tradition over there and they play hard. We managed to make some plays and limit our mistakes."
The Lions' defense is a bit banged up with key injuries to Henry Doris and Billy Doyle, but Derning knows there is no rest for the weary in the tough West Suburban Silver.
"Everybody in this league is tough," Derning said. "We're probably more mentally and emotionally bruised then physically. We'll get everybody ready and we are going back home which should help."
The Lions host defending conference champion York Friday night at 7:30 p.m.