By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest football team's dream run ended Saturday afternoon in front of a vocal home crowd at Oak Park Stadium. Maine South quieted the Huskie faithful to a considerable extent by scoring four of the first five touchdowns of the game en route to its 34-21 victory over the Huskies in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.
The Huskies finished the season with a 9-2 record, highlighted by a 5-1 runner-up finish in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division and a 35-13 playoff victory against Dundee-Crown in opening round action. Maine South moves on to the 8A quarterfinals where the Hawks will face rival Loyola, which defeated Notre Dame 24-0 on Saturday.
After the Huskies committed a costly encroachment penalty on a Maine South field goal attempt, running back Clay Burdelik put the Hawks up 7-0 on his 3-yard touchdown run off right tackle midway through the first quarter. Maine South quarterback Brian Collis tossed a 6-yard scoring strike to Justin Fahey extending the Hawks' lead to 14-0 with 8:36 left in the second quarter. The Hawks took full advantage of good field position early to build their lead.
"I put a lot of the blame on myself," OPRF head coach John Hoerster said. "We took the ball to start the game and we had our backs into the wind and couldn't flip the field. We just to needed to find a win to get that turned. We got in a hole in the first quarter and just couldn't win that early field position battle. They had a short field and took advantage of it."
OPRF quarterback Lloyd Yates drew the Huskies within 14-7 on a 70-yard touchdown run (followed by Sebastian Medala's PAT) at 8:19 of the second quarter.
Maine South seemed to put the game away on touchdown passes from Collis to Tony Buenrostro (nine yards) and George Sajenko (eight yards) to build a commanding 27-7 lead at the midpoint of the third quarter.
However, the quick-strike Huskies responded four plays later after Sajenko's touchdown snag, when Yates connected with Purdue-bound Simmie Cobbs on a 52-yard touchdown toss to make the score 27-14 with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter.
After Maine South responded yet again on a Burdelik one-yard touchdown plunge with 9:42 left in the game, extending the Hawks' advantage to 34-14, OPRF attempted a frenzied rally over the final nine minutes.
"There's no quit with our guys," Hoerster said. "They always believe. We talk about being optimistic in life and always believing that there's hope. They could have hung their heads at certain points during this game but they didn't. We made some plays and got some momentum back but we ran out of time."
Yates threw his second touchdown pass on the afternoon via a lofted 37-yard pass to senior wide receiver Ryan Chancellor to pull OPRF within 34-21. On the ensuing possession, Collis was picked off by OPRF linebacker Sam Cottingham-Beard. Unfortunately, multiple (and questionable) unsportsmanlike conduct/personal foul penalties called against the Huskies down the stretch hampered their ability to pull closer on the scoreboard.
While several calls may have been questionable, the Huskies are also due some culpability, considering they finished with 15 penalities for 137 yards. By stark comparison, Maine South had just three penalties for 30 yards.
Yates completed 18 of 28 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns (two passing/one rushing) along with two interceptions. The junior signal-caller also rushed 11 times for 124 yards. Senior wide receivers Xavier Rowe (nine catches, 72 yards) and Cobbs (five catches, 102 yards) also played major roles offensively.
On defense, Justin Starks had a team-high 11 tackles while senior defensive linemen Andre Lee and Emonte Logan added nine tackles apiece. Promising sophomore Allen Stallings recorded eight tackles, while Cobbs and Cottingham-Beard each had an interception.
"Our players made some great strides this year and accomplished some really amazing things," Hoerster said. "They have so much to be proud of and the lessons they learned [this season] they will be able to apply in their lives.
"We played a darn good team in Maine South, and we played them hard till they end. We couldn't catch a break and we couldn't make the plays when we needed to get the win."
With several key returners including Yates, Stallings, Adam Lemke-Bell, Marty McAndrews, Antonio Cannon, Jahmari Moore and Dawon Browley Lacey plus reinforcements from an undefeated sophomore team, the Huskies should field a highly competitive team next season.
"I think our junior class could be even better than us. I think [next year] they can get even farther in the playoffs," said OPRF senior center Steve Skrine. "This season, we never gave up- that defined our season. Unfortunately, we didn't get past the second round but 9-2 is a heckuva season and I had an awesome time with these guys."
Senior linebacker Manny Renteria also offered well-deserved praise for his teammates, Hoerster and even the aforemenioned OPRF fans: "Coach Hoerster is doing a very good job. Our senior class was unbelievable. We all believed in each other, and the fans were great, too. We all turned the program around together."