By Marty Farmer
After Oak Park and River Forest High School wide receiver Simmie Cobbs caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Lloyd Yates against Proviso West on Friday, OPRF head coach John Hoerster embraced Cobbs on the sideline and told him, "welcome back."
Cobbs, who was ruled eligible by the IHSA to play this season after missing the first two games, sparked the Huskies' 29-6 win over Proviso West in both teams' West Suburban (Silver) Conference opener. His high-leaping catch for a touchdown, which occurred five seconds before halftime, extended the Huskies' lead to 15-0. Even more meaninful, Cobbs officially rejoined his OPRF football family as another welcomed playmaker in style.
"I'm speechless," Cobbs said after the game, regarding his timely touchdown. "I was so excited when I caught the touchdown pass. I haven't played at Oak Park since my sophomore year. It was very touching for me to see my teammates, my coaches and all the Oak Park fans all so happy for me. I never wanted to leave Oak Park in the first place, but it is what it is. I feel back home."
Cobbs attended Montini last year, before returning to OPRF this school year. He was declared ineligible by the IHSA to play football at Montini last season, although he did play basketball for the Broncos last winter.
He is considered a rising Division I football prospect who has already drawn interest from several colleges including Illinois, Northern Illinois, Indiana, Purdue and Iowa State.
On Friday, OPRF opened the scoring when defensive end Andre Lee and linebacker Nathan Godwin sacked Proviso West quarterback Dennis Bryant Jr. in the end zone for a safety putting the Huskies up 2-0 with 3:12 left in the first quarter. Aided by a Proviso West personal foul, OPRF scored a touchdown two plays later on Yates' 14-yard run up the middle to give OPRF lead an 8-0 edge at 2:22 of the opening quarter.
The Panthers drew within 15-6 on Bryant Jr.'s five-yard touchdown pass to Chance Haney with 1:41 left in the in the third quarter.
OPRF senior running back Mike Hayden (11 carries, 82 yards) put the game out of reach with touchdown scampers of four yards and 42 yards within the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, extending the Huskies' lead to 29-6.
"Mike has been kind of our grinder since I've been here," Hoerster said. "He's a captain and a leader, not with his words but with his actions. Last year, Mike was a sidekick to [former OPRF star running back] Jakari Cammon, but he handled it with such class and humility. Mike has truly earned what he's achieved and he does a lot of things for us offensively."
Led by Godwin (10 tackles) and Lee (nine tackles), the OPRF defense held the Panthers in check all night long. Marty McAndrews and Justin Starks chipped in four tackles apiece. Over three games this season, the Huskies have allowed a paltry 17 points (5.6 points per game).
"We're just working as a team and doing the best we can," McAndrews said. "I give credit to our scout team, which gave us the same looks as Proviso [West] in practice, and also to our coaches who are great leaders. I respect every one of them in a big way. We feel like the sky's the limit for us as long as we keep working together to get better."
OPRF hosts Downers Grove North on Friday (Sept. 20). The highly regarded Trojans (2-1) lost to Class 7A defending state champion Glenbard West 21-0 on Friday in an early season West Suburban (Silver) Conference showdown.
At 3-0 and 1-0 in conference, the Huskies have the look of a conference contender. Since a 3-6 record in his first year with the Huskies, Hoerster has guided OPRF to 10 wins in its last 14 games.
"We played for four quarters against Proviso West," Hoerster said. "Our defense stepped up big time. It was big program win on the road for us, and I'm really proud of our players. We'll need a good week of preparation to get ready for a very good team in Downers Grove North."