After a relatively flat first half, the Oak Park and River Forest High School team certainly found its rhythm in the third quarter. The Huskies scored on all three of their possessions in the quarter, transforming an uneasy 17-14 halftime deficit into a commanding 34-17 lead.
“That was the best quarter we played all season,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “We made some adjustments at halftime. The defense really stepped up and the offense took advantage of some good field position.
“I couldn’t be prouder of (junior running back) Terrance Roundy and our offensive line. They really stepped up and played great.”
Roundy triggered the 20-point spurt on a 2-yard touchdown run at the 9:51 mark of the third quarter to give OPRF a 21-17 lead. On the Huskies’ next possession, Roundy raced 46 yards into the end zone to make the score 27-17 midway through the quarter. Senior quarterback Jeremy Hunt capped off the scoring on a 9-yard run, extending the lead to 34-17 with 3:55 left in the third.
The teams went scoreless in the fourth quarter as OPRF improved to 6-0 with its 34-17 win against the visiting Dukes on Friday night.
With Friday’s win, OPRF qualified for the state playoffs for the fifth straight season under Hoerster.
Roundy finished with a career-high 156 yards on 18 carries, while Hunt was comparably effective completing 24 of 32 passes for 175 yards and two TDs.
“We talked at halftime about just playing better,” Roundy said. “My offensive line is great. I give them all the credit. They open up gaps and I just see it and go.
“Our destiny is pretty much in our own hands. Nothing is going to be handed to us, so we have to take what we want.”
OPRF also benefitted from an impressive performance from the Huskies’ deep wide receiving corps of Craig Shelton (7 catches, 75 yards), Eddie Gorens (6 catches, 65 yards), Kohri Blair (5 catches, 29 yards) and Jared Scott (4 catches, 12 yards).
While the Huskies possess a wide array of scoring threats, the offensive line was notable against York. OPRF amassed 426 yards of total offense and 25 first downs following the effective line of left tackle Phil Saleh, left guard Sharmore Clarke, center Ethan Lemons, right guard Jacob Hale and right tackle Amir Tillis.
“Jacob and I talked and we wanted to pound the ball every drive,” Clarke said. “Collectively, the best thing we do as an offensive line is talk. Talking has really helped us push through.”
Before York was put away in the third quarter, the Dukes played well early en route to a 17-14 halftime lead. Running back Santiago Vazquez capped off a 9-play, 66-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard run to put the Dukes up 7-0 at 7:42 of the first quarter.
OPRF tied the score at 7-all when Hunt connected with senior Ryan Molina on a 16-yard pass with 11:54 left in the second quarter.
York kicker John Sopko nailed a 42-yard field goal as the Dukes regained the lead at 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
The Huskies responded again, however, as Hunt threw a 10-yard slant to Shelton to put OPRF ahead 14-10.
York quarterback Charlie Pakenas gave the Dukes their last lead of the game at 17-14 with 1:42 remaining until halftime. Facing a fourth-and-3 at the OPRF 49-yard line, Pakenas faked an inside handoff to Vazquez and then sprinted off left tackle for a wide open TD run.
Depending on which sideline perspective you asked, it was either a gusty play call by York or a defensive mental lapse by OPRF.
Fortunately, the Huskies left no such room for ambiguity during the latter stages of the game, courtesy of their brilliant third quarter effort.
Defensively, OPRF posted a shutout in the second half with increased intensity on all three levels of their defense.
“We trust each other (on defense) and that’s why we are doing so well,” senior nose tackle Austin Maxwell said. “The linebackers, the d-ends, we are all one big family. We just have to keep practicing hard and moving forward.”
Although the Huskies were thrilled with the victory against York, running back Michael Houston was injured during the game. He was on the sideline in a walking boot during the second half. Hoerster said Houston would be fine however moving forward.
The Huskies’ special teams play had some shaky moments as well. Senior Keyon Blankenbaker uncharacteristically fumbled a pair of punt receptions but also returned a kickoff 45 yards. From a broader perspective, if the biggest concern is your all-conference cornerback botching a few catches on special teams life is prety good in Huskieland.
Then again, the Huskies are about to embark on their annual three week gauntlet to close out the regular season. Glenbard West, Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central await OPRF over the next three weeks.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play the ‘big boys’ in our conference,” Maxwell said. “These upcoming games will prepare us well for the playoffs.”
OPRF first hits the road to take on defending conference champion Glenbard West. The Huskies and Hilltoppers will square off on Saturday, Oct. 8 at historic Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn.
“It’s like the Bears and the Packers when we play,” Maxwell said about the rivalry. “It’s a great opportunity for us. Glenbard West has an outstanding coaching staff and players. They have great fan support like we do so we’re all just excited for the game.”
Along with OPRF (6-0, 3-0) and Glenbard West (4-1, 2-1), Hinsdale Central (5-0, 3-0) and LyonsTownship (5-0, 2-0) remain in contention for the coveted West Suburban Conference Silver Division title. Glenbard West, the reigning Class 8A state champs, has won the last eight conference championships but this season remains wide open.
“I really feel fortunate to coach in such a great conference,” Hoerster said. “It’s a fantastic conference with great coaches who I have a ton of respect for. There are offenses and offenses that do different things so every week truly offers an opportunity to get better.”