For Homecoming weekend, high schools typically schedule a football game against an opponent that they have a good shot of defeating. After all, there are many alumni who attend the game that want to see their alma mater win.
Someone forgot to tell Oak Park and River Forest of this customary move at Oak Park Stadium on Friday night. The Huskies’ opponent for Homecoming, you wonder? OPRF hosted longtime kingpin of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division – Glenbard West.
The Hilltoppers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, placing the Huskies in a deep, early hole. While OPRF rallied to make matters interesting, Glenbard West prevailed 24-14 to claim its seventh win in a row. Glenbard West improves to 7-1 (5-0 in West Suburban Silver) while OPRF falls to 5-3 (2-3).
“I thought we competed hard,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “A few things go the other way, and you never know. I thought our defense played some good, hard football, and our offense found an identity tonight against a really good defense. We did some good things.”
Glenbard West won the coin toss but decided to defer to the second half, so OPRF received the ball to start the game. The Huskies went three-and-out and punted on their first offensive series.
The Hilltoppers took immediate advantage with one of their patented scoring drives, going 12 plays for 50 yards in nearly six minutes. Running back Dre Thomas (23 carries, 125 yards, 2 TDs) capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run. Logan Ryan’s extra point gave the Hilltoppers a 7-0 lead with 5:08 to go in the opening quarter.
What really frustrated the Huskies’ defense on that drive was Glenbard West converting a pair of third-and-long plays and a fourth down play for first downs.
On OPRF’s next possession, sophomore quarterback Toby Kunkel fumbled after a punishing hit by the Hilltoppers. Glenbard West’s Dave Lanciloti recovered the ball at the OPRF 35-yard line. A 5-play drive resulted in Thomas’ second TD run, this time from nine yards. Ryan’s PAT increased the Hilltoppers’ lead to 14-0 at the 2:53 mark of the first quarter.
OPRF offered a new look on their next possession when running back Keith Robinson lined up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. Hoerster added the wrinkle to the playbook specifically for the Glenbard West matchup.
“We have two good running backs in Keith and Terrance (Roundy), and we needed to find more ways to get the ball in their hands,” Hoerster said. “They ran hard and very well. They block for each other and are unselfish. And with the way our offensive line played tonight, it paid off.”
Although OPRF moved the ball well, a questionable holding penalty foiled the drive and the Huskies punted. It took just four plays for the Hilltoppers to extend the lead as Ryan Diver took it to the house from 17 yards out. The extra point made it 21-0 with 11:08 left in the first half.
Towards the end of the first half, the tide began to shift gradually to OPRF. After the teams exchanged defensive stops, the Huskies went on a 15-play, 98-yard scoring drive that used up over five minutes on the clock. Kunkel threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Fred Brandstrader with :38 seconds left until halftime to make the score 21-7. Roundy ignited the drive with a 31-yard run from the Huskies’ 2.
In the third quarter, the Hilltoppers went on another lengthy drive that consumed almost six minutes. However, Thomas was stopped short on a fourth-down play and OPRF regained possession on its own 29. Inspired by the Huskies’ defensive stand, Roundy and Robinson ran well during a 7-play TD drive that culminated with another Kunkel TD pass, this one for 14 yards to Trevon Brown. Kicker Henry Darrow added his second extra point to pull the Huskies closer at 21-14 with :21 seconds left in the third.
In the fourth quarter, Glenbard West showed why it’s one of the area’s best teams. The Hilltoppers went on a nine-play march from their own 26 to the OPRF 15. Ryan booted a 32-yard field goal to increase the Glenbard West advantage to 24-14 with 8:34 left in the game.
After getting another defensive stop, the Hilltoppers took over at their 30. With 6:56 remaining in the fourth quarter, Glenbard West put together a 19-play drive then ended inside the OPRF 1 as time expired.
Despite the loss, several Huskies turned on strong performances. Offensively, Kunkel (5-for-12, 52 yards, 2 TD passes) looked composed at quarterback, and Roundy (19 carries, 120 yards) and Robinson (9 carries, 47 yards) ran well thanks to a strong effort by the offensive line led by Phil Saleh.
On defense, Saleh, Aidan Shea, and Brown all recorded sacks, while Kevin Gilbert, Izaiah Ruffin, Cedric Cheatham, and John Mitchell all had multiple-tackle games.
“Phil Saleh played both ways tonight and was a beast,” Hoerster said. “John Mitchell is a bright kid, a leader and a competitor. He wants to win games and make plays. He’s tough as nails and just an excellent kid. And I thought Toby grew up a bit tonight. He made some good decisions.”
Rallying from 21 points downs to get back in the game is something the Huskies will build on as the regular season winds to a close this week.
“I’m proud of this group,” Hoerster said. “If they can learn from this [Glenbard West] game, the sky’s the limit. There are plenty of positives we can build on for the future.”
OPRF faces Lyons Township on Friday, October 20. Game time is at 7:30 p.m. at Bennett Field in Western Springs.
The Lions are led by Cincinnati-bound quarterback Ben Bryant, wide receiver Brandon Fischer and defensive lineman Mickey Brown.
Hoerster is looking forward to the road challenge in the Huskies’ regular-season finale. With five wins already this season, OPRF is playoff-eligible and a probable pick to make the Class 8A playoffs. Nevertheless, the Huskies’ lone focus is on Lyons Township.
“You’re guaranteed only nine games in a season, so let’s have fun with this opportunity,” Hoerster said.