In a heated intra-conference battle, Oak Park and River Forest High School varsity football team got its first win of the season against Lyons Township. OPRF quarterback Jaden McGill starred in the 23-13 victory, with 233 passing yards and 88 yards on the ground. He had three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) while running back Eric Locke contributed 105 yards receiving on four catches.
After the game, OPRF coach John Hoerster was encouraged by what he saw from his team on Sept. 13.
"I think the kids are starting to figure out what football is all about," said Hoerster, whose Huskies improved to 1-2 with the win. "If you do your 1/11th on the field and trust your teammates and coaches, good things happen. Our kids came out with fire in their bellies, and I am proud of how they performed tonight."
However, that fire didn't ignite until the end of the first half. On the first series of the game, LTHS (1-2) ran five consecutive running plays to set up a 33-yard, play-action touchdown from quarterback Blaise Reichert. Down 6-0 early, Hoerster's team didn't panic.
"I think we had some early-game jitters that we got out of our system early," said Hoerster. "We really put together some nice drives at the end of the first half."
After OPRF took a 7-6 lead on a McGill 2-yard rushing touchdown early in the second quarter, both teams exchanged defensive stops. Deep in their own territory, the Huskies mustered a 29-yard punt with just under a minute to play that put LTHS on Oak Park's 42-yard line.
The Lions almost took advantage of its scoring position when Reichert overthrew a pass down the sideline. Just like on two other occasions on the night for Reichert, it could have led to a touchdown. The missed chance proved costly as OPRF's Henry Detmer intercepted Reichert on the next play.
"We had some mental lapses throughout the game on missed passes and missed opportunities with some touchdown passes that we probably could have made," said LTHS coach Dan Hartman. "That was the difference in the game. Against good teams you have to make those plays."
With 35 seconds left in the half, McGill completed two passes under pressure to give OPRF a 14-6 lead heading into halftime. The first came when he completed an off-balance, 29-yard pass across his body to running back Nazareth Bryant. On the next play, he led running back Eric Locke on a 36-yard strike on OPRF's sideline for his second touchdown of the game.
Despite the rough start from his offensive unit in the first two games of the season, Hoerster likes what he's seeing from his young quarterback.
"He is a fighter. We are asking him to do a lot on this football team," said Hoerster. "Tonight he just found a groove and settled in. We had a really exciting game plan going into this game and he was really confident with it. You could see in his execution that he felt really good about what we were doing."
The rest of the game turned into a defensive battle between the conference foes. Both teams struggled to get anything going on the ground as the defensive lines for OPRF and LTHS penetrated the other's backfield. Backed up to LTHS' 2-yard line, Reichert took a safety with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter to give OPRF a 23-13 lead.
The Lions' last shot at creeping back into the game came with six minutes left. Reichert led the way with a series of quick, short passes all the way down to OPRF's 22-yard line. However, he threw a play-action pass just out of reach out of his receiver in single coverage. LTHS would end up turning the ball over on downs, sealing the win for OPRF.
Reichert finished with 152 yards through the air with a pair of touchdowns. LTHS receiver Sam Rodriguez finished with four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Both teams will play their next games Sept. 20, when OPRF takes on Hinsdale Central at home while LTHS tries to bounce back on the road against York.