Let’s not kid ourselves. The Oak Park and River Forest High School football players, coaches, parents, fans and alumni despertately wanted the Huskies to defeat Glenbard West last weekend and wrest control of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division from the Hilltoppers. While Glenbard West is a tremendous team, the Huskies were within one pass completion of knocking them off at Oak Park Stadium in 2013. It felt like the Huskies’ time this year.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out on a dreary afternoon at Duchon Field which is almost always the case along the visitors’ sideline since coach Chad Hetlet has taken over the Glenbard West program.

Despite the disappointing loss, there was a lot of information gathered and lessons learned for the Huskies moving forward. Here’s a closer look regarding all things OPRF football in this week’s Huskies Notebook.

Red Zone Blues for OPRF

Scoring against Glenbard West is never an easy proposition, but the Huskies had several looks. OPRF moved the ball fairly well on offense, but stalled inside the Hilltoppers’ 25-yard line on several costly occasions.

The first missed opportunity occurred during the well-chronicled “no reception deception” offensive series. With the Huskies trailing host Glenbard West 21-14, OPRF senior quarterback Lloyd Yates threw an apparent touchdown pass to wide receiver Ke’Juan Ratcliff (seven catches, 88 yards) in the left corner of the end zone on a fourth-and-13 from the Glenbard West 23 with four seconds left till halftime. An official ruled Ratcliff was out of bounds when he caught the ball.

Photographic evidence clearly showed both of Ratcliff’s feet were nestled comfortably inside the end zone; however, an official ruled that the Huskies’ senior wide receiver caught the ball out of bounds and assessed the Hilltoppers with two penalties (pass interference/roughing the passer.). On the next/final play of the first half, Yates was sacked by Glenbard West linebacker Nico Gagliano (two sacks for the game) on a 1st and 10 at the West 13 to close out the first half.

While this failed opportunity wasn’t the Huskies’ fault, it still resulted in no points on the board.

OPRF also opened the second quarter with a sustained drive down the field. With a fresh set of downs at the Hilltoppers’ 16, Yates was tackled for a loss of three yards by Ben Marcus. Two plays later, Yates was sacked by defensive end Declan Ryan, forcing OPRF to punt on the Glenbard West side of the field.

After an inspired defensive stand by the Huskies midway through the fourth quarter, OPRF regained possession at its 3. Yates engineered another drive all the way down to the Hilltoppers’ 15. He was sacked, however, on a fourth-and-9 by Gagliano essentially sealing the Huskies’ fate.

“He’s fast, he’s a dual-threat quarterback,” said Gagliano said about Yates. “He’s a great passer, and he’s really good at running the ball. It was tough to contain him, but our defense really came through on a couple of those blitzes.

“It felt great to come out with the win. When I was on the sophomore team, Oak Park beat us pretty good, so I knew this was going to be a tough matchup.”

Added Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet: “”This is a great Oak Park team. That’s as good a football team as you’ll face, I really don’t know if you’ll find a whole lot of teams better.”

Ke’Juan coming on for Huskies

Last season was a frustrating one for OPRF wide receiver Ke’Juan Ratcliff. He was limited by injury and also received reduced playing time once Simmie Cobbs (now playing college football at Indiana) broke into the starting lineup. To his credit, the 6-2, 175-pound wideout remained patient and recovered well from injury.

Fast forward to this season and it’s clear Ratcliff is the Huskies’ best receiver and primary threat in the passing game. His talent was on full display against Glenbard West, finishing with seven catches for 88 yards.Those stats were earned even with the Hilltoppers rolling coverage over towards Ratcliff.

After practice, it’s not uncommon to see Yates and Ratcliff work on some pass plays together.

“I was really proud of Ke’Juan,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said after the game. “He played very well.”

Yates’ disposition even more impressive than his ability

Lloyd Yates is a three-year starting quarterback for the Huskies, who at this time next year will be a member of the Northwestern University football team. He can throw, run and punt. However, the more I watch the 6-2, 185-pound senior play, the more I marvel at his even-keeled demeanor. I have a similar feeling when I watch OPRF senior safety Nathan Godwin. Yates is unique though. He carries himself as well as anybody on and off the field.

In that regard, he reminds me of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Both guys are winners who simply, “get it” in terms of admirable attitude and behavior.

Several OPRF players were visibly upset after the Huskies’ loss at Glenbard West. While Yates obviously also felt the frustration of the loss (particularly to Glenbard West), he always appears to take everything that happens on the gridiron in stride. It’s a nice quality for a senior quarterback to have, especially with the Class 8A playoffs on the horizon.

Hetlet categorized Yates as one of the top 2 or 3 quarterbacks in the state. That’s lofty praise for OPRF’s offensive leader. Seeing Hetlet and Yates talk and embrace at midfield after Saturday’s game was a nice moment. The respect shared between opposing player and coach was evident.

Happy 100, Coach Hetlet

Congratulations to Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet who notched his 100th career win with the Hilltoppers’ 28-14 victory over OPRF. Since Hetlet has taken over the program, the Hilltoppers have already won a state title and are perennial contenders to win state. He’s also established a brand of football with the Hitters that revolves around a strong running game and a fast, physical defense.

“Chad’s an in-conference guy who has always been very supportive of me since I came to OPRF,” Hoerster said. “You’ve got to respect the job he’s done at Glenbard West. We respect that program a ton adn we congratulate Chad on 100 wins.”

Don’t sleep on the Lions

Looking ahead to Friday’s matchup against Lyons Township at Oak Park Stadium (7:30 p.m. kickoff), the Huskies will be highly motivated coming off their first loss of the season. LT is 3-3 overall and 1-2 within conference play. While that record may imply a fairly pedestrian opponent, Hoerster and the Huskies know better.

“It’s another tough conference opponent for us,” OPRF defensive lineman Allen Stallings said. “They always seems to play us pretty tough, but we will be ready to go.”

The Lions feature an excellent 1-2 punch in quarterback Tommy Fiedler and Miami, Ohio-bound running back Leonard Ross. Last week, Ross rushed for 115 yards on 26 carries in a 37-23 loss to Hinsdale Central.  

Seniors like linebacker Joe Dillon, defensive lineman Aaron Smith, linebacker Connor Dales and cornerback Danny O’Malley along with highly touted junior defensive end Dante Stefanini lead the LT defense.

The Lions are coached by Kurt Weinberg, who has already taken LT to three straight quarterfinal playoff appearances and also defeated Glenbard West 31-13 (in 2011) during his brief but impressive tenure. The Lions’ victory snapped a 27-game winning streak within the conference for Glenbard West at the time.

Like Hetlet, Weinberg is impressed with OPRF (5-1, 3-1 West Suburban Silver).

“They’re a great team,” Weinberg said. “Oak Park is super fast and they are well-coached so it’s going to be tough. We’ve got to be at our best, that’s for sure.”

Prediction: OPRF 42, LT 17

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...