The sun broke through the clouds on a cold and damp autumn Saturday afternoon last week just in time to shine upon the OPRF football team's fourth-quarter heroics as the Huskies edged Glenbard West 16-14 and advanced into the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Trailing 7-3 to start the fourth quarter the Huskies got behind linebacker-turned-fullback Josh Bixler, who steamrolled his way to 34 yards in four consecutive carries, including a 17-yard touchdown. Cedric Rowland's leaping catch from Ricky Foytik for 17 yards preceded Bixler's rushing effort.
Upon holding the Hilltoppers on the following possession, OPRF's Nick Vom Brack recovered a fumbled punt return to give the Huskies ample field position with eight minutes left in the game. The heads-up play quickly led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Foytik to Jon Meacham. Sam Frank's extra point put the Huskies up 16-7.
The Hilltoppers responded on the next possession with a 10-yard TD run by quarterback Billy Boockford with 2:54 left on the clock.
Glenbard West's onside kick nestled into the hands of a leaping Meacham, and after a brief offensive series the Huskies celebrated their at-large playoff birth.
"This team is all about character and they showed that out there today in the fourth quarter," said OPRF head coach Jim Nudera, who was doused in Gatorade after the victory. "We've got quality players and they played hard. They did what we asked them to do."
The Huskies jumped on the board first with an impressive opening drive. Foytik (7-of-15 99 yards), playing in his second game since returning from a broken collarbone suffered early in the season, orchestrated a 12-play drive that resulted in Frank's 35-yard field goal.
But the Hilltoppers responded before the end of the first quarter when Boockford found Kevin Watt for a 4-yard TD. Jonathon Gebka's extra point put Glenbard West up 7-3 for the next two quarters. The Huskies held their West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe in check with some stingy defense. Brett Schiffman recorded four solo tackles in the first half.
Frank attempted a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter that sailed wide left. A 38-yarder with 2:44 left in the third also ebbed wide right.
OPRF's final regular season record of 5-4 is the best the program has finished since the last time the Huskies made the playoffs. The program struggled with four straight 3-6 seasons from 2000 to '03, and finished 2-7 last season.
"It's been a long time coming," said Nudera of the playoff birth, his first in six years as head coach at OPRF, "so it's definitely a step in the right direction."
The Huskies will travel to Lincolnshire Friday night (7 p.m.) to take on No. 1-seeded Stevenson (9-0) in the opening round of the Class 8A playoffs. Stevenson, ranked fourth in the state by the Chicago Tribune, won the North Suburban Lake Conference with a perfect 6-0 record. The Patriots are coming off a 35-34 double overtime win over conference foe Warren. The team boasts two outstanding rushers in Carl Johnson and Mike Breckheimer, who together have racked up over 1,500 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season.