This feels familiar. The weather is cooling and leaves are falling as Oak Park and River Forest and Glenbard West prepare for another huge high school football game on Saturday.
It’s become essentially an annual rite of passage into the business end of the football season.
Wednesday Journal contributing reporter Melvin Tate and sports editor Marty Farmer break down the upcoming battle on Saturday, Oct. 13 at Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m.
Tate offers the Huskies’ outlook while Farmer writes about the Hilltoppers. And both offer a score prediction.
Mr. Tate, the floor is yours.
Thanks Marty, here’s how I see this year’s matchup.
The last time OPRF defeated Glenbard West on the gridiron, the current Huskies were either in first, second or third grade.
In 2007, OPRF routed the Hilltoppers 35-14. Since suffering that loss in his first season, Glenbard West head coach Chad Hetlet’s team has won 10 consecutive games against OPRF. Whether it’s been a blowout or a close loss, the Huskies have been frustrated by continually losing to the Hilltoppers.
On Saturday, the Huskies roll into picturesque Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn on a four-game winning streak. After a 1-2 start and inconsistent offense earlier this season, OPRF has picked up its production in recent weeks. The running game is clicking, led by an impressive collection of playmakers in sophomore quarterback Jaden McGill and running backs Nazareth Bryant and Keith Robinson.
In order to defeat Glenbard West, the Huskies will need balance on offense with contributions in the passing game. The Huskies must use their array of difference-makers on offense. Senior wide receiver Trevon Brown is a prolific player and Division I prospect. Craig Shelton can make plays, too. Add in the aforementioned trio of McGill, Bryant and Robinson, and it’s apparent, the Huskies have plenty of scoring options.
Reserve quarterback Toby Kunkel has starting experience as well. If needed, he could provide another look behind center for the Hitters to contend with. The Huskies have the luxury of quality depth at quarterback.
Because Glenbard West is very good on defense, OPRF will need to execute well offensively on several fronts. McGill needs to make accurate passes, Brown needs to touch the ball often. the offensive line and running backs need to play well, and turnovers must be minimized.
Establishing an early lead against Glenbard West would help, too. In past meetings, the Hilltoppers typically take a touchdown or two advantage and then maintain or expand their lead.
Defense has been the calling card for OPRF this season. The Huskies have displayed tremendous speed and athleticism across the board. OPRF has been especially stout against the run, thanks to a strong defensive line powered by Cincinnati-bound Izaiah Ruffin and Ashford Hollis. Linebacker Cedric Cheatham has elevated his game in recent weeks, making several key tackles at critical times.
If there is an Achilles heel, it’s that the Huskies have been prone to giving up big plays, particularly in the passing game. OPRF must be aware of the Glenbard West’s play-action passing attack, which has been known to produce big plays for the Hilltoppers.
Special teams have been good for OPRF. Ethan Reinhardt has improved his punting as the season has progressed. Kicker Henry Darrow has had a wonderful year converting extra points and field goals, along with providing long kickoffs.
The return units have been more productive lately. Aidan Shea has been steady, while Bryant has shown explosiveness on kickoffs. Bryant had a kickoff return for a touchdown against York, though it was nullified due to a penalty. He is a threat to take it to the house at any time.
OPRF will need contributions from all three phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) to pull off the upset.
Will it be difficult to win on the road? Of course, it will. The Hilltoppers always seem to find an extra boost emotionally against OPRF. And with a win, Glenbard West essentially clinches another West Suburban Conference Silver Division title outright.
Can the Huskies win? Absolutely. After all, streaks eventually come to an end. Glenbard West has had a good run against OPRF; however, it comes to a close on Saturday. OPRF is talented, confident and playing well. That’s the combination needed to notch a significant win this weekend.
On a final note, the Huskies need the Dog Pound to travel well Saturday afternoon. They need the visiting bleachers at Duchon Field packed with fans clad in orange and blue.
And yes, OPRF fans need to not only attend the game but be loudly supportive from the opening kickoff. Let the boys know you’re with them. When Glenbard West has the ball, cheer for the Huskies’ Orange Crush defense to limit the Hilltoppers’ effectiveness.
Tate’s Take pick: OPRF 28, Glenbard West 21
Marty, what’s the outlook on the Hilltoppers’ sideline.
Okay, if somebody has to play the bad guy I guess it’s me. Full disclosure, my first gig as a sports beat reporter was covering Glenbard West football for the Glen Ellyn News as the older folks like to say, “back in the day.” Back then, the Hilltoppers (colloquially referred to as the “Hitters”) weren’t the perennial powerhouse they are now. I was long gone and here in Oak Park when Hetlet took over the program. To say he’s done a remarkable job is an understatement.
While I do have a certain affinity for Glenbard West, I think the world of both OPRF and Fenwick in town. I grew up in River Forest as a fan of the former and I am a proud graduate of the latter.
Regardless, breaking down OPRF- Glenbard West matchups have always been a pretty straightforward, objective process for me.
All of the points Melvin made were well-reasoned and accurate. OPRF has the kind of impact players to win Saturday.
But like THE Ohio State University, Glenbard West has THE player in Saturday’s matchup. Senior running back Tyquan Cox has 892 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns this season. He’s also a scoring threat on special teams.
In past meetings between the teams, Glenbard West running backs like Dre Thomas, Ryan Diver and Sam Brodner have had big days against the Huskies. The Hilltoppers hope to do the same Saturday. If the Huskies shut down Cox, their chances of victory take a major spike. That’s a big IF though.
While Cox is the headliner, the Hilltoppers have other weapons. Quarterback Tommy Bleker has been solid, while Nick Seifert and Joey Richmond provide the Hilltoppers with customary depth in the offensive backfield. Hank Knez anchors an offensive line that’s under the radar but effective.
Just because Glenbard West doesn’t run the triple-wing offense doesn’t mean it’s not old school either. The Hilltoppers believe in wearing down opponents by running the football with an array of running backs. They believe in controlling the clock, moving the chains via the ground game and passing selectively to their advantage.
To paraphrase coach Herman Boone’s line in Remember the Titans, Glenbard West’s offense works like novocaine. It takes a little while to kick in but it works.
In fact, it’s not a stretch to say whichever team wins the battles along the line of scrimmage is victorious on Saturday.
Defensively, the Hitters return seven starters this season. Linebacker Jayden Rogers, defensive back Greyson Metz and defensive lineman Marky Winters lead a talented bunch.
The Hilltoppers are optimistic linebacker Otis Neavins returns from injury for the OPRF game.
Since a 35-14 loss at Maine South in Week 1, Glenbard West has won six games in a row and allowed only 52 points in six games. The Hilltoppers have outscored their opponents 225-87 on the season. Like OPRF, momentum is on their side.
Glenbard West is focused on winning another conference title to set the tone for an extended postseason stay.
The Huskies have the talent to pull off the upset. I’ve incorrectly picked them in the past to beat Glenbard West.
I hope OPRF proves me wrong. A Huskies’ win would give this matchup a nice infusion of intrigue. With McGill and Bryant, (only sophomores) and other key returners next season, the narrative could take a sustained turn in favor of OPRF. Who knows?
However, I’ll go with the Hilltoppers considering their comparable ability, experience (particularly on defense) and home field advantage in an entertaining game. I envision the Huskies drawing first blood with a touchdown and the Hilltoppers responding with multiple scores to take the lead for good. Regardless of the winner, the game should be really fun and very compelling.
Like Melvin noted, Duchon Field is picturesque but the results there have been ugly for OPRF.
Fearless Farmer’s pick: Glenbard West 31, OPRF 17