On a cold and windy Friday night at Oak Park Stadium, in a homecoming game that had huge playoff ramifications, the OPRF football team hosted Downers Grove North.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they fell in a hard-fought battle to the Trojans 14-7 as OPRF wide receiver Gavin Tunney was stopped just outside the DGN goal line on a 4th-down pass play in the waning seconds.
“[DGN] played better in all three phases of the game,” OPRF head coach John Hoerster said. “We still had a chance there at the end, but at the end of the day, we got beat by a team that played better than we did.”
DGN QB/DB Drew Cassens played a major role in the Huskies’ defeat. The senior ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, completed 5 passes in 7 attempts for 87 yards and a touchdown, and added 8.5 tackles defensively. Afterward, Hoerster credited his outstanding play.
“[Cassens] is a heck of a football player, man,” he said. “He does it all for them, and he’s one of the better players we’ve seen this year.”
The game started off on a sour note for OPRF (3-4, 2-2 in West Suburban Silver) as DGN’s opening kickoff bounced off a Huskie player and was recovered by the Trojans at midfield. Cassens immediately cashed in on the gift as he tossed a 50-yard scoring strike to Sam Barbato to give DGN (4-3, 2-3 in West Suburban Silver) a 7-0 lead just 11 seconds into the contest.
“The ball went straight at the kid and hit him and bounced right into the arms of a DGN guy,” said Hoerster of the special-teams miscue. “It’s the second week in a row that’s happened. We’ve got to understand that the ball is coming fast at us and get out of the way.”
The remainder of the first half largely turned into a defensive slugfest as the teams exchanged multiple stops. Each team missed field goals in the second quarter; DGN’s Adam Criter saw his 29-yard attempt blocked, and OPRF’s Aidan Chranko was short from 38 yards out.
“The defense had a decent night,” said Hoerster. “But we’ve got to get guys off the field. While we bent and didn’t break, we also gave up some really long drives. DGN took a lot of time off the clock and kept our offense off the field. But other than the first play, our kids did pretty well.”
Toward the end of the first half, OPRF put together a 46-yard scoring drive that ended with a 23-yard TD pass from Jaden McGill to Jaylen Davis with 3 seconds left, making the score 7-7 at halftime.
DGN started the second half with an 8-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Cassens taking it to the house from 18 yards out on a fourth-down play. The score gave the Trojans a 14-7 advantage.
Later in the third quarter, DGN embarked on a lengthy drive that extended into the fourth. But on fourth down, Cassens was stopped for no gain at the OPRF 20, and the Huskies took over.
OPRF then went on a lengthy, time-consuming march of its own. With 40 seconds left, the Huskies faced a 4th-and-goal from the Trojans’ 3-yard line. McGill went into the end zone on a keeper for an apparent touchdown, but the officials flagged OPRF for an illegal block, a call that Hoerster and his staff vehemently disagreed with.
Backed up to the DGN 13, McGill found an open Tunney at the 5, but he was stopped just outside the goal line, resulting in a turnover on downs with 27 seconds left. The Trojans ran out the clock.
“Our offense has got to do our defense some more favors,” Hoerster said. “Scoring only 7 points, you can’t win many games.”
While McGill had a solid night running the ball (72 yards on 14 carries), he struggled throwing, completing only 7 passes in 17 attempts for 52 yards and the aforementioned touchdown to Davis. Nazareth Bryant also had a productive game for the Huskies, with 81 yards on 17 rushes and 4 receptions for 14 yards.
OPRF’s top defensive standouts were Henry Detmer (6.5 tackles), Jake Birmingham (5.5 tackles), Amarion Jones (4), Malik Donaly (3.5), and Ryan McFadden (3).
The Huskies were emotional after the loss, facing the stunning reality that an eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs is now in jeopardy; to gain eligibility, OPRF must win its final two games. But Hoerster believes the team can salvage the season.
“We only have so many opportunities to be together,” he said. “In high school at the end of the year, this group will never exist again. The seniors will be gone, and you never know who’s coming back, so we’ve got to enjoy the time together. I know I enjoy being around the kids and coaches, and I’m really going to relish that. Hopefully, they do too and continue to work on their craft. Football is a great game, and we can continue to work on being better players.”
OPRF travels to Elmhurst to face York, Oct. 18. The Dukes are also 3-4, so the loser will be eliminated from state playoff contention. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.