By Marty Farmer
Talk about a regular-season finale!
Although the state playoffs start next week, Friday's showdown between host Oak Park and River Forest and Hinsdale Central certainly qualifies as a huge game in terms of appeal and meaning. I jokingly describe the OPRF-Glenbard West matchup as the "Annual Game of the Century." Consider OPRF-Hinsdale Central the "Annual Game of the Century II."
Hyperbole aside, the Huskies and Red Devils are both 7-1 overall including a 4-1 record in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. The winner clinches sole possession of second place in the league. Outside of Glenbard West, both teams are the class of the conference and state championship contenders.
While both squads also feature talent all over the field, the OPRF defense (aka Orange Crush) vs. the Hinsdale Central offense is the must see matchup. In eight games, the Huskies have allowed only 101 points, while the Red Devils have scored a conference-best 306 points. Obviously, something's gotta give.
OPRF will lean on its front eight featuring defensive linemen Allen Stallings, Austin Maxwell and Connor Nelson, coupled with a terrific group of linebackers including Jahmari Moore, Sam Francis and Evan Bell, to provide a pass rush and contain the run. Corners Keyon Blankerbaker and Sean Woods and safety Rolliann Sturkey will defend the perimeter.
The defense has flourished this season as well due to its tremendous depth. Defensive linemen Dodge Childs and Eddie Gorens, linebacker Kohri Blair and cornerback Brenden Flowers have been playing well for OPRF.
This season, OPRF has 18 sacks, seven interceptions, 11 turnovers and 60 pass breakups while allowing 12.6 points per game. The Huskies have allowed seven points or less in four games.
In their Week 9 matchup, the Huskies will need all hands on deck against the Red Devils' powerful offense.
Hinsdale Central counters with a plethora of offensive threats including 6-foot-7 quarterback Michael Sessa, running back Christian Bobak and wide receivers Brad Huth and Kareem Muhammad. 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior Matt Allen, a Michigan State recruit, anchors the Red Devils' talented offensive line.
While Hinsdale Central can score in a variety of ways, running the ball with Bobak behind its big offensive line seems like a probable attack. Glenbard West was able to wear down the Huskies' defense earlier this season; look for the Red Devils to try and do the same.
Smith, Cannon lead offense
Offensively, OPRF is coming off an excellent performance against Lyons Township (35-7 win in Week 8). Senior running back Antonio Cannon ran for a career-high 271 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Jamarri Watson also ran well with 84 yards on seven carries.
Senior quarterback Keegan Smith notched his first win on the varsity level with an efficient 19-for-29, 166 passing yards performance. In a very unassuming manner, Smith has been solid, 35 of 54 passes for 315 yards (64.8 percent) and a 112 quarterback rating.
Junior quarterback Jeremy Hunt suffered a season-ending injury against York in Week 6. Luckily, the Huskies have enjoyed the luxury of having two capable signal callers. While Smith's moment is now, Hunt will return next year as the team's unquestioned leader offensively.
Although the OPRF offense hasn't been as spectacular as the defense, the Huskies are averaging 29.9 points and offer a variety of playmakers. Cannon (95 carries, 831 yards, 8 TDs) has been the unit's best player with Watson also a major contributor. In addition to his work at running back, Watson has 18 catches (tied for second on the team with Breshawn Wilkerson).
Senior Cole Fields lead the team in receptions with 31 for 235 yards. Wide receivers Jared Scott, Davion Talbert, Myles Thompson and Gorens could also contribute in the passing game. All of them are blessed with size and speed.
Based on their personnel, the Huskies tend to score in quick strike fashion. While that should be on display against the Red Devils, a few sustained scoring drives would also help. Keeping Hinsdale Central off the field will help the Huskies' defense maintain its exemplary level of play.
Motivation will be high for both teams, particularly the Huskies who lost to Hinsdale Central 21-17. That loss adversely affected OPRF's playoff seeding. Two weeks after their setback to the Red Devils last year, the Huskies' season was over with a 39-15 loss at eventual state quarterfinalist Barrington in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.
This year OPRF has made it a point of emphasis to focus on simply getting better each day. Every practice counts. Each opponent is nameless and equally respected. That methodical approach has served them well.
In fact, with the exception of a bad second-half showing against Glenbard West, the Huskies are right where they want to be at this point in the season. And even after their loss to the Hilltoppers, the Huskies' mindset seemed more mature and upbeat compared to last season's disappointing loss.
Regardless of what happens against Hinsdale Central, OPRF will enter the "second season" as a very talented and dangerous football team. A win, however, coupled with an opening game signature victory against Lincoln-Way East and second place in the highly regarded West Suburban Silver would position them even better for the postseason.
Kickoff is Friday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Answer Book 2018
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