Coming off a dominant 49-9 win against Morton last week, Oak Park and River Forest High School’s football team (3-3) took care of business against Proviso West (0-6) on Oct. 4. Huskies quarterback Jaden McGill (three total touchdowns) threw for 124 passing yards while adding 24 yards on the ground in his two quarters of work. Running back Nazareth Bryant accumulated 86 yards on the ground, 46 receiving yards, and had a rushing and receiving touchdown.
However, the Huskies had moments of vulnerability against the Panthers. Going into the game, Proviso West scored 36 points through its first five games of the season. After the defense surrendered 26 points to the Panthers, there is still improvement to be made after six games.
“We have to get better,” said head coach John Hoerster. “We still have to understand that it starts with good alignment and knowing where you are supposed to be, knowing your assignment, and executing. In all three phases of the game, we had instances where our alignment was wrong which put our players out of position and [Proviso West] took advantage of it.”
Throughout the first half, McGill pressured the Panthers’ secondary with multiple shots downfield. While Proviso West was able to disrupt the Huskies’ passing game, the Huskies opened up their run game.
OPRF went up 14-0 in the first quarter after a pair of rushing touchdowns from McGill and Bryant. After the Huskies dropped a pass in the corner of the end zone on second down, McGill took matters into his own hands by running for a 10-yard touchdown with 7:48 left in the quarter. Bryant followed with a 13-yard touchdown at the 4:44 mark on the next drive after bullying the defense with two big runs during the series.
The Panthers responded on the first play of their next drive when running back Brandon Smith took a handoff out of shotgun and sped past the Huskies’ defense. He tiptoed down the sideline for an 84-yard score (almost falling out of bounds on the one-yard line trying to stay inbounds). Later in the fourth quarter, he would gash the OPRF defense with a 65-yard rushing touchdown. He ended the game with 129 yards on the ground and would have added more to that tally if not for one attempt where he ran 25 yards back to avoid the defense.
“[Smith] was probably the best player on the field tonight,” said Hoerster. “He is a phenomenal football player, and when you play against guys like that, you have to be in the right spot. He took advantage of us not being in the right spots. He is a very impressive athlete.”
The Huskies matched the Panthers’ long touchdown with one of their own when Bryant ran the ensuing kickoff back for an 81-yard TD return. He would find the endzone again halfway through the second quarter when McGill threw a touch pass that Bryant caught up to and snagged from 10 yards out. Their connection has been one of the high points for the Huskies this season.
“When you have a quarterback who can do things with his arm and legs and a running back who can run, catch, and block, they can do some damage for us,” said Hoerster. “They’re great kids who put in a lot of work.”
Proviso West scored one last time before the conclusion of the second half, when wide receiver Jalon Jones shook off his defender on a hitch route, and ran for a 64-yard touchdown to make the score 28-12 (the Panther failed on both of their 2-point attempts in the first half). McGill would add to the Huskies’ lead with 24-yard rushing touchdown with 3:32 left to give OPRF a comfortable 34-12 lead heading into halftime.
The second unit for the Huskies would take over the offense in the second half. Their lone score would come at the end of the game when running back Jack Landis ran for a 34-yard touchdown. OPRF finished with 331 yards of total offense.
On the defensive end, Jack Birmingham totaled 4.5 tackles and an interception while his teammate Malik Donaly notched 5.5 tackles of his own. Naahlyee Bryant (1.5 sacks) and Evan Failor (one sack) had three tackles each.
“We are still getting healthy with two of our starters being out,” said Hoerster. “I’ve been happy with a lot of things that I’ve seen from [this team] but at this point in the season I think we need to be a little sharper.”
The Huskies will look for their first win at home when they face Downers Grove North for Homecoming on Oct. 11 at 7:30 pm.