Oak Park and River Forest High School quarterback Lloyd Yates and left tackle Adam Lemke-Bell didn’t disappoint a very special guest during the Huskies’ 35-13 win over visiting Proviso West. With Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald looking on during Friday’s rain-soaked conference opener, Yates and Lemke-Bell (both NU commits) provided their future coach a promising glimpse of their ability. Often running behind the powerful left side blocking of Lemke-Bell and left guard Nick Saleh, Yates rushed 14 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was awesome that Coach Fitz and another recruiting coordinator came out and supported us” Yates said. “They also talked to the community. Adam and the entire offensive line had a great game. Proviso West always gives us a good battle, but we came out with the win. It’s always exciting to play football on a Friday night.”
Running backs Antonio Cannon (16 carries, 147 yards), De’Viaughn Benion (11 carries, 92 yards, TD), Kamal Bey (two carries, 68 yards) and Jamarri Watson (TD) also contributed to the Huskies’ remarkable ground attack, which produced 410 yards on 52 rushes (7.9 yards per carry).
“Our three-back rotation is very good,” Cannon said. “We can count on any one of us to come in and execute. All of us have the same mindset to make plays for our team.”
By comparison, Proviso West rushed 22 times for just 62 yards.
“Tempo was a big key to this game for us,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “When we were able to get into a good rhythm and keep it simple, we were effective. There’s always room for improvement, but for the most part we did a good job of securing the football and not doing silly things like turning the ball over or committing stupid penalties. We have some very good running backs, a quarterback who makes great decisions and a solid, experienced offensive line.”
While Fitzgerald attended Friday’s game to see his two prized recruits in action, there’s a good possibility he (along with several Division I college football coaches) may be doing further shopping around the OPRF program. Aside from 12 wins in its past 14 games, the OPRF program is establishing itself as a fertile resource for finding college-level talent.
While the team’s ability on both sides of the ball is indisputable, spotty patches of play have occured throughout the season. Friday served as no exception with the Huskies getting off to a relatively sluggish start. Other than a 19-yard touchdown run by Yates with 9:45 left in the first quarter, OPRF went scoreless until the midway point of the second quarter. Defensively, they allowed the Panthers more third down conversions (5-for-15) then they would have liked.
After Proviso West senior running back Chance Haney tied the score at 6-all on a 5-yard run with 7:33 remaining in the second quarter, the Huskies methodically seized the momentum for good. OPRF 6-8, 240-pound senior Markus Allen blocked the extra point attempt. Six plays later, Yates scampered 14 yards into the end zone. Sebastian Medala converted the PAT for a 13-6 OPRF advantage with 5:57 left until halftime.
Proviso West quarterback Dennis Bryant hit Louis Brown Jr. on a slant pass which the latter ran 32 yards for a touchdown to tie the score 13-13.
Watson scored on a three-yard touchdown run and added a two-point conversation on another successful run to give the Huskies a 21-13 edge on the scoreboard.
OPRF scored 14 unanswered points on consecutive possessions in the third quarter on Yates’ 13-yard run and Benion’s 2-yard run to establish a comfortable advantage against the physical, tough Panthers.
“We didn’t throw the ball,” Hoerster said. “When you’re playing a team like Proviso [West], we felt like if we could run the ball effectively, we could eventually war them down since they have a lot of guys going both ways. By throwing the football, we felt like maybe we could be playing into their hands.”
Proviso West threatened to score once more in the fourth quarter; however, OPRF cornerback Shawn Woods leaped high for an interception to stymie that offensive march. While the Panthers held a 259 to 7 yards passing advantage over the Huskies, OPRF turned in a pretty solid defensive showing. Linebacker Sam Francis had a team-high 6 1/2 tackles while Woods continued his excellent play with 5 ½ tackles and an interception. Jahmari Moore added 5 ½ tackles, including one for loss and senior defensive end Jelani Onigbinde recorded the team’s lone sack. Roland Sturkey, Nathan Godwin, Allen Stallings, Marty McAndrews, James Cousin and Dallis Flowers all chipped in, particularly in shutting down the run.
“I think we did a nice job of staying disciplined to our jobs,” Moore said. “Both teams [tonight] were athletic, but when it comes down to it, doing your job is the key. I’m learning a lot and really enjoying this season. Our coaches do a good job of pointing out mistakes and ways for us to improve.”
Aside from the inclement weather and the Huskies’ occasional lapses in giving up big plays, the worst news of the night was when wide receiver Cole Fields reportedly broke his leg during the game. A transfer from Mundelein High School, Fields had been a valuable addition to the OPRF wide receiving corps. Unfortunately, he’s likely lost for the season.
“Cole came here and didn’t know anybody,” Hoerster said. “He made some friends and worked his tail off to earn a spot on a very talented team. It’s just a shame to see it happen to such an outstanding kid. We have a lot of outstanding kids, but it just broke my heart to see the look on Cole’s face. It’s really unfortunate.”
On the bright side, Fields is only a junior so he’ll be back in the blue and orange at some point. OPRF also honored its seniors with a pre-game ceremony on Friday. The players from the 2014 class were freshmen when Hoerster took over the football program.
“It’s a great group of kids that bought into the program right away,” Hoerster said. “We’re really intent on making this a special year for everybody, but particularly for our seniors because they have earned it.”
OPRF (3-0, 1-0 West Suburban Silver) is back on the road again next Friday, Sep. 19 at Downers Grove North. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.