From the editor
The student section was nonexistent. The so-called Dog Pound, a ghost town. The band had cleared out; the cheerleaders were long gone. With the exception of obligated parents, a few diehards, the coaches, the overexuberant P.A. announcer, and the plentiful security personnel on hand, the OPRF football team was pretty much alone during its final standoff in double overtime against sixth-ranked Hinsdale Central on Oct. 3.

I’m not blaming anyone for not being there, nor for leaving early. It was cold, an annoying drizzle fell for much of the second half and most of you had to get home and prep for the homecoming dance. But a lot of people missed a battle the likes of which I hadn’t seen in my nine years of covering football at OPRF. And I still haven’t gotten over it.

At the end, the scoreboard read Hinsdale Central 46, OPRF 45, but OPRF won the game. The officials made an incorrect call in double overtime when Red Devils quarterback John Whitelaw tried to burrow his way up the middle on a 2-point conversion attempt. He went nowhere but on his back, stopped and turned around by OPRF linebackers Brock Friesen and Joe Donlan, among others. But something else happened.

“I knew I had to keep my knees driving. I was just hoping the officials were not going to say my knee was on the ground before I fumbled,” Whitelaw told reporters after the game.

Whitelaw didn’t fumble the ball. With his forward progress already halted nowhere near the goal line, in a last-ditch effort the resourceful lefty let go the ball and it went right over the top of linebacker Caleb Conway’s head, hitting the ground in the end zone before it was pounced on by Red Devils offensive lineman Scott McDowell.

For more than two minutes, three officials stood in the middle of the end zone trying to decipher what had just happened. One official finally called over the far line judge and conferred with him for another minute before declaring Hinsdale Central had recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

It was baffling when it happened, and it’s still baffling now that I’ve watched that last play on film 2,749 times.

I’m fairly certain that had the referee blown the whistle at the right time and made the right call, the Hinsdale Central coaches would have lined their players up to shake hands and then made their way to the bus with nary an argument.

The referees – and let’s face it, nearly everyone – simply figured Hinsdale Central would eventually win the game. That’s another reason why the stands were only sparsely full by the conclusion. There was no way the Huskies were going to defeat a sixth-ranked team like Hinsdale Central, who boast a top-notch southpaw quarterback in Whitelaw.

But they did.

The OPRF football players know who really won that game. And they’re not alone in their thinking.


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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...