The Oak Park and River Forest High School football team turned in a tremendous effort against Hinsdale Central on Friday. In particular, the Huskies’ defense didn’t allow any points and special teams also played very well at Dickinson Field in Hinsdale.

However, winning typically requires contributions in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams.

And while the Huskies win or lose as a team, it is undeniable their offense sputtered all evening against the Red Devils in a 7-0 loss.

 In fact, the OPRF offense not only went scoreless but gave up the lone touchdown of the game. The Red Devils’ Andrew Novatney had a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown off Jaden McGill’s pass with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter to produce the victory.

“Defensively, we played great. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance on that side of the ball,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “Special teams, we played great. Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot a few times with inopportune penalties, which is uncharacteristic of this group. Those penalties put us in some tough spots. And then, some guys have got to step up and make plays.”

Whether it was a missed block, miscommunication or a dropped pass by a receiver, whenever OPRF started to move the ball, a miscue occurred to stall a drive. The Huskies also played without starting running back Keith Robinson, who sat out the game due to injury.

On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati recruit Isaiah Ruffin, Cedric Cheatham, Danny Francis and Ashford Hollis led the Huskies’ stout defense.

Unfortunately, Hinsdale Central also excelled defensively.

“Hinsdale Central’s a great team.” he said. “Hats off to them. Their coaching staff did a great job preparing their guys for this game. They were ready to go.”

OPRF started the game on a good note when the defense forced Hinsdale Central to go three-and-out on the opening drive. But on the Huskies’ first offensive play, a good run by running back Nazareth Bryant was negated by a holding penalty.

Hinsdale Central earned a pair of first downs on its next drive, but OPRF stiffened inside its own territory as the Red Devils punted. Neither team could get anything going offensively the remainder of the first quarter. The game quickly evolved into a defensive battle with numerous punts.

Early in the second quarter, OPRF started a drive from its own 47-yard line. A pair of McGill keepers (9, 16 yards) and a 10-yard run by Bryant moved the ball to the Hinsdale Central 22. The drive stalled and the Huskies turned the ball over on downs. That march represented the deepest penetration offensively by either team as the game remained scoreless at halftime. 

Halfway through the third quarter, the OPRF defense set up a tremendous scoring chance, sacking and stripping Red Devils’ quarterback Matthew Rush of the ball. The Huskies recovered and took over on the Red Devils’ 27. Another pair of McGill runs plus an encroachment penalty against Hinsdale Central put OPRF on the 15.

On third down, a snap sailed over McGill’s head. Although he alertly fell on the ball to prevent a turnover, the significant yardage loss forced another OPRF punt. 

At the 9:41 mark of the fourth quarter. McGill targeted top receiver Trevon Brown with a pass over the middle in the signature play of the game. Novatney, a junior safety with a penchant for making big plays, picked off the pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown. The Red Devils made the PAT to take a 7-0 lead.

OPRF failed to score on its next three possessions. The Huskies went three-and-out on the first series. On the second possession, a 23-yard run by Issyah Howard moved OPRF into Hinsdale territory, but a punt was the eventual outcome of that drive. On the final possession in the closing seconds of the game, McGill threw another interception as the Red Devils’ Vincent Zelisko picked off the pass at the OPRF 28.

“We put a lot on Jaden’s shoulders, and (Hinsdale Central) really geared up for him,” Hoerster said. “We can’t expect him to bail us out of all of the problems. We’ve got to have some other guys step up.

“I need to make sure we have some consistency,” Hoerster added. “We’ll have a good play here and there and then have a missed assignment here or there. It makes a big difference in the end.”

Despite a 1-2 record, OPRF has shown signs of being a good team. The Huskies are keenly aware that the margin of error in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division is small.

Fortunately, there are improvements OPRF can make to turn close losses into wins.

“We just need to keep improving to get to the next level,” Hoerster said. “Our defense and special teams look great. The offense has to evolve a little bit; we’ve got to get better. We’ll move on and we’ve got other games to play. Either way, I’m proud of how our kids fought until the end (tonight).”

OPRF hosts Morton in a conference crossover game on Sept. 14. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

After two weeks on the road, playing in front of supportive fans, students, the marching band, cheerleaders and drill team will assuredly lift the Huskies’ spirits.

“Being on the road is tough,” Hoerster said. “It will be nice to be at home.”

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