By Marty Farmer
The true barometer of the Oak Park and River Forest football team's progress essentially begins next week when the Huskies visit Proviso West in both teams' West Suburban (Silver) Conference opener. Two games into the season, however, OPRF has the look and feel of a very dangerous team for any opponent. Just ask Fenger and Leyden who were outscored 93-11, collectively, by the Huskies the past few weeks.
The Huskies cruised to a 38-3 win on Senior Night over visiting Leyden on Friday night. The biggest cheer of the festive evening at a packed Oak Park Stadium arguably came when the public address announcer mentioned Maisie Hoerster's birthday, the six-year-old daughter of OPRF head coach John Hoerster.
"She's very excited," Hoerster said with a laugh after the game. "In terms of the game, I was pleased overall with our performance, but we had some penalties and missed opportunities. That could hurt us down the road especially in our conference if we don't eliminate those kinds of mistakes."
Senior running back Jamal Baggett got the party started early for the Huskies against Leyden when he scored on a four-yard run to put OPRF up 6-0 at 9:25 of the first quarter. On the Huskies' next possession, Baggett broke loose for a 66-yard touchdown run. Quarterback Lloyd Yates tossed a pass to wide receiver Ryan Chancellor to convert a two-point conversion extending the OPRF lead to 14-0 midway through the opening quarter.
"Tonight was great. We started off fast," Baggett said. "Our offensive line and defensive line made things easy for us. We came out prepared and performed."
The Eagles got on the board via a 21-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the first quarter to draw within 14-3. With 6:37 remaining until halftime, the Yates to Chancellor combination struck again on a nine-yard pass play for a touchdown and a 21-3 OPRF advantage. On the Eagles' ensuing possession, the versatile Baggett picked off a pass by Leyden quarterback Tom Pajor. Three plays later, Yates scampered 48 yards on a misdirection run into the end zone pushing the score 28-3 at 3:56 of the second quarter.
With 35 seconds left in the third quarter, Yates continually eluded Eagles defenders before finding promising sophomore running back Antonio Cannon on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Reflecting the comprehensive nature of the Huskies' blowout win, even kicker Sebastian Medala joined the scoring act with a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to make it a 38-3 final.
Defensively, the Huskies were equally impressive causing five turnovers by the Eagles. Baggett and Dallis Flowers each had an interception, while Justin Starks and Emonte Logan both recovered a fumble. Andre Lee and Allen Stallings (sack) triggered a consistent pass rush against the overmatched Eagles.
"Our offense usually does a great job and they did again [tonight]," Lee said. "Defensively, our sophomore Allen Stallings was great and he really improved a lot over the summer. Emonte has done a tremendous job coming back from an injury last season. We've been building something special really since coach Hoerster came to OPRF, but we still have things to improve on."
As a previous assistant coach at Mount Carmel, Hoerster knows what it feels like to be part of a championship-caliber football program. In his estimation, OPRF has the potential to become an elite program- again.
"If you look at championship programs and the tools you need to be successful, all the tools are here at OPRF," he said. "You have the kids in the building, you have the facilities, you have the history of a great program, and the high school is in the center of town. Friday nights at Oak Park Stadium is really the place to be. We really think we're heading in that direction."
OPRF (2-0) takes on Proviso West next Friday (7:30 p.m.) in Hillside.
"I've been at OPRF three years and Proviso West has beaten us two out of three times," Hoerster said. "[Proviso West head coach] Famous Hulbert is an amazing coach. He and I played against each other in high school. I have a ton of respect for Famous and the Proviso West program, but our focus is to get in a great week of practice, play well and win that game next week."