The Oak Park and River Forest High School football team was hoping to defeat not only visiting York but also Mother Nature on Friday. With the forecast calling for heavy rain and thunderstorms, the Huskies scrambled to get the game in, even eschewing the ever-popular Marching Huskies' halftime performance.
Unfortunately, the predicted storm arrived with 10:59 left in the third quarter and OPRF holding a 21-7 lead. The game was suspended until the teams resumed play early Saturday morning. Even though it took two days, the Huskies ultimately prevailed 42-21 in West Suburban Conference Silver Division action.
"It was very difficult," OPRF coach John Hoerster said. "That is tough to ask from teenage boys. You get done with a half of hard football, and then we tell you to go home and go to bed. I know I couldn't fall asleep; my adrenaline was still kicking.
"Then we needed the kids to be here at 7 a.m. (Saturday) and to have breakfast. That's a lot," added Hoerster. "How we responded, we still have some things to work on. At the end of the day, the goal was to just get things done and take care of business. They showed up on time and ultimately it worked out well, but it's a challenge."
Like his teammates, OPRF running back Nazareth Bryant adjusted reasonably well to the unusual circumstances.
"I woke up a little sleepy (Saturday)," said Bryant, "but I came out and wanted to play football. I love the game and I love my team."
On Friday, the game started inauspiciously for the Huskies when they fumbled the opening kickoff and York recovered the ball in OPRF territory. However, linebacker Cedric Cheatham came up with a huge stop on 4th-and-2 from the Huskies' 30, stuffing a York runner at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
Midway through the first quarter, OPRF running back Nazareth Bryant burst free for a 62-yard TD run. Henry Darrow added the extra point to give the Huskies a 7-0 edge.
"Naz has really turned it on the latter half of the season," said Hoerster. "I'm excited and happy about him."
Bryant knows his recent success is due to the OPRF offensive linemen.
"The o-line has been doing great," he said. "They've been blocking up field and making sure I don't get tackled in the backfield. I just follow them and do my job."
The Dukes responded on the next drive with an 11-yard TD pass from quarterback Daniel Dunn to Tyrone Birmingham Jr. to tie the game at 7-all.
Runs of 54 and 13 yards by OPRF sophomore quarterback Jaden McGill set up his 3-yard TD run. Darrow's PAT made it 14-7 Huskies at the 10:34 mark in the second quarter.
Cheatham made another huge tackle for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the York 29 on the next drive to give the Huskies excellent field position. But OPRF wound up punting from its own territory thanks to a penalty and a pair of Dukes' sacks of McGill.
Later in the quarter. McGill was intercepted and a good return set York up on the OPRF 25. But two plays later, OPRF's Daemyen Middlebrooks intercepted Dunn and went on an electrifying return - which included him leaping over a defender - to the York 39. With 26 seconds left until halftime, McGill connected with Trevon Brown on a 9-yard TD pass to boost the Huskies' advantage to 21-7.
Huskies seal win on Saturday
When play resumed Saturday morning, York scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14. Bryant returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but it was nullified due to an illegal block. Undaunted, Bryant ripped off a 27-yard run to set up Keith Robinson's 25-yard touchdown run at the 7:20 mark of the third quarter that raised the score to 28-14 OPRF.
The Huskies' defensive line pressured Dunn into throwing another interception, this one to Danny Francis at the York 44. OPRF cashed in on the gift with McGill's second TD run (26 yards) at the 2:28 mark. The Huskies led 35-14 after three quarters.
Early in the fourth quarter, McGill was sacked and lost the ball. The fumble was recovered by York at the OPRF 32. The Dukes took advantage with a short TD drive capped with a 3-yard pass from Dunn to Josiah Scott. The PAT cut the OPRF lead to 35-21 with 8:26 remaining.
But the Huskies put the game away on the next possession with a nice, efficient drive that ended with Robinson going to the house from 35 yards out. Darrow's sixth PAT made the score 42-21.
Aidan Shea's interception of Dunn on the next drive sealed the outcome.
According to Hoerster, the return of Robinson makes a big difference in the efficiency and versatility of the OPRF offense.
"Having Keith back changes a lot for us," he said. "He gives us another dimension and threat. He makes things all of a sudden more challenging for the defense. When you add Jaden, Craig (Shelton), Trevon, and (Erik) Skala, we have a lot of guys that can make plays."
The win ensured the Huskies playoff eligibility for a seventh consecutive season.
Hoerster assumes nothing at this point in the season.
"With five wins, you've still got to get playoff points, so nothing's guaranteed yet," he said. "You never know how that's going to shake out. All we can do is get ready for next week. If we take care of business, that's going to give us plenty of opportunities like not only qualifying for the playoffs, but also having a shot at the conference."
OPRF takes on Glenbard West Saturday, Oct. 13 in Glen Ellyn. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. at picturesque Duchon Field.
The Huskies (5-2, 3-1 West Suburban Silver) and Hilltoppers (6-1, 4-0) are vying for the conference title along with Hinsdale Central (5-2, 4-1).