A tradition of Glenbard West football is for its players to run up the hill on campus and ring the victory bell after each win. The theory being every Glen Ellyn resident will know when the Hilltoppers (colloquially known as Hitters) have prevailed.
However, the only sound heard Saturday was a long overdue celebration among the Oak Park and River Forest football players, coaches and fans. The Huskies edged the Hilltoppers 10-7 at Duchon Field, snapping a 10-game losing streak against Glenbard West and symbolically shedding a few ghosts of Hitters past.
“It’s a great win for the program,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “Our coaching staff did a great job coming up with the game plan. In every phase, I think we went into the game feeling good about our plan. We had good practices during the week and believed we could win.”
While kudos certainly belong to multiple Huskies, kicker Henry Darrow enjoyed game-winning honors by making a 41-yard field goal with three seconds left in the fourth quarter. The fact he kicks left-footed made the ending even cooler.
A few minutes before Darrow’s dagger, the Hilltoppers had tied the score at 7-all when running back Tyquan Cox tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Tommy Bleker at the 1:23 mark of the fourth quarter. The well-disguised play resembled the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Philly Special,” which resulted in a TD pass to quarterback Nick Foles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Huskies’ Nazareth Bryant set up Darrow’s kick with a long run to midfield. Bryant returned to kickoffs for 61 yards on the day.
Engaged in a scoreless defensive battle throughout the first half, the Huskies finally hit paydirt when senior running back Keith Robinson scampered 73 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown in the third quarter. Robinson finished with 117 yards on 12 carries.
OPRF quarterback Jaden McGill completed 4 of 8 passes for 37 yards and rushed for 52 yards on 16 carries. Senior wide receiver Craig Shelton caught three passes for 32 yards.
The Huskies’ playmakers have been aided this season by plenty of protection from the offensive line. Left tackles Fabian Gonzalez and Tommy Cronin, left guard Ryan Schuler, center Henry Hart, right guard Ben Reniva and right tackle Tavell Gross have become a cohesive and effective unit.
“We are extremely pleased with their development,” Hoerster said about the offensive line. “Not a lot of them had playing time as juniors. And Fabian was a sophomore last season. We were really curious how they would come together this season. It’s really fun to see how much they have grown.
“We went into this season with a commitment to running the football,” Hoerster added. “We felt like we needed to do a better job running the football and getting the tough yards when we needed them. These six guys up front have been the backbone of all of that.”
Cox, regarded as one of the premier running backs in the state, rushed for 138 yards on 27 carries for Glenbard West. Bleker completed 5 of 8 passes for 99 yards.
Defensively, the Huskies continued their dominant play.
Linebacker Cedric Cheatham was all over the field with 13.5 tackles, including two for loss. Jaylan Pascacio had 5.5 tackles. Izaiah Ruffin, Ethan Reinhardt, Malik Donaly, Joe Phelan and Daemyen Middlebrooks added four tackles apiece. Defensive coordinator Tim Fischer also cited solid efforts from Aidan Shea and Jake Adams in containing the Hilltoppers’ highly-regarded ground game.
In the second half, the Huskies stopped Glenbard West twice on fourth down.
“Obviously, we’re ecstatic with the win because [Glenbard West] is such a good program,” Fischer said. “We have nine seniors on defense. Our defensive line sets up our linebackers well to make plays. With Ashford (Hollis) and Izaiah on the line, they are hard to move. We have Cheatham, too, who is a kid that finds the ball and shoots gaps pretty well. Another guy, Aidan Shea, has been lights out for us all year.”
The Hilltoppers actually outgained OPRF in total yards (298-223), had more first downs (16-10) and won time of possession (28:51-19:09). However, the Huskies ultimately made enough big plays to earn the huge road win.
After a 1-2 start, the Huskies have reeled off five straight victories highlighted by Saturday’s statement win. Although the opponent, venue and recent head-to-head matchup made the result particularly meaningful, OPRF is playing with an understated but palpable confidence on the gridiron.
In terms of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division standings, the Huskies (6-2, 4-1) can clinch at least a share of the championship with a win against visiting Lyons Township on Friday, Oct. 19. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at OPRF Stadium.
Glenbard West (6-2, 4-1) can earn a share of the championship as well if the Hilltoppers defeat Proviso West.
Hinsdale Central (6-2, 5-1) has already notched at least part of the conference title. The Red Devils will win the title outright in the unlikely scenario that heavily-favored OPRF and Glenbard West lose to LTHS and Proviso West, respectively, in Week 9 games.
The last time OPRF won a conference title was 1998.
Regardless of the outcomes during the final week of the regular season, the Huskies are playing at a high level during the second half of the schedule. To paraphrase a line from Hoerster, it’s truly “a great day to be a Huskie.”
“It’s always good to feel like you are trending up,” he said. “You want to head into the playoffs feeling confident and good about yourself. The kids believe in the plan. We have a really strong senior group. They have brought the juniors and sophomores into the mix well. Everybody feels like they are a part of something special.”