When the OPRF football team fell behind York Friday night in Elmhurst with less than three minutes remaining in the game, Huskies’ QB Jaden McGill had one message for his team — don’t give up.

“They went up on us, but I kept telling the team to believe, we got this,” said McGill after OPRF’s thrilling 35-28 victory. “Games like this get rowdy at the end; you need to keep your cool and believe, and that’s what we did.”

With the lead changing hands four times in the final seven minutes, OPRF head coach John Hoerster compared the fourth quarter to a heavyweight boxing match — a pure slugfest. 

“Hats off to York,” Hoerster said. “We had them on the ropes at halftime, but they came out ready to play [in the second half]. It was like a good fight with both teams exchanging blows back-and-forth, and it kind of came down to who had the ball last. I’m really proud of our kids coming up with plays when we needed them.”

After the teams went three-and-out on their opening possessions, OPRF (4-4, 2-3 in West Suburban Silver) went ahead 7-0 on McGill’s 15-yard TD pass to Eric Locke at the 7:45 mark of the first quarter. 

“Eric’s a big guy with amazing hands,” said McGill. “I saw him one-on-one and put it up in a spot where he could get it, and he made the play.”

The Huskies had a chance to extend the lead after Naahlyee Bryant recovered a fumble on York’s next possession at the Dukes’ 33-yard line. But a pair of holding penalties pushed OPRF back into its own territory. McGill fumbled and York’s Chris Eckard recovered at the Huskies’ 38.

Gifted with great field position, the Dukes (3-5, 2-3 in West Suburban Silver) cashed in when Max Assaad found Sami Ayash for a 5-yard TD pass. But Anthony Lapiana missed the PAT, leaving the score 7-6 OPRF at the end of the first 12 minutes. 

The Huskies used second-quarter TD runs by Naz Bryant (6 yards) and Kelby Gray (4 yards) to take a 21-6 halftime lead. The duo combined for 227 rushing yards on the evening.

“They are beasts,” said McGill, who finished with 190 yards (94 rushing, 96 passing) and two touchdowns in total offense. “Naz is our captain and has been running hard all season, and Kelby’s stepped up for us and been great.”

York started the second half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took over 6 minutes, capping it off with another Assaad TD pass, this time to Luke Malaga from 9 yards out. The score cut the Dukes’ deficit to 21-13.

After getting a three-and-out defensively, York RB Patrick Kastner’s 59-yard burst set up Lapiana’s 22-yard FG that made the score 21-16 OPRF after three quarters.

The final seven minutes of the game got exciting. The Dukes took the lead with 6:55 to play on a trick play. Assaad threw a lateral to WR Aaron Berman, who then found Kastner open for a 51-yard TD pass. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 22-21 York.

OPRF immediately responded on the next drive when Hoerster made a gutsy call to go for it on fourth down. From OPRF’s 29, McGill veered to his left and raced untouched to the house for a 71-yard TD. The Huskies went for two but were stopped, though they still led 27-22 with 4:59 to play.

“Jaden played an amazing game,” Hoerster said. “On that fourth down play, my eyes were looking inside because I thought he had gained it. But he popped outside and did what he does. The decisions he made were really good.”

York regained the lead as Assaad’s 62-yard bomb to Malaga set up Kastner’s 1-yard TD. However, the Dukes failed again on the two-point conversion, leaving the score 28-27 at the 2:38 mark. 

The Huskies ultimately would not to be denied victory. Starting at their own 40, OPRF took advantage of a personal foul on York, and two long runs by Gray set up the Huskies at the Dukes’ 12. A penalty on OPRF pushed the ball back five yards, but two plays later, Naz Bryant swept to the left and ran it in for a touchdown. McGill’s 2-point conversion run made the score 35-28 Huskies with :55 left. Then OPRF DB Henry Detmer sealed the win when he picked off Assaad on the Dukes’ last-gasp effort.

The win keeps alive OPRF’s bid for an eighth consecutive IHSA playoff berth. But in order to extend the school record, the Huskies will need to defeat Glenbard West, one of Chicagoland’s top programs. And they’ll have to do so at Oak Park Stadium, where surprisingly they have yet to be victorious this season.

“Hopefully we can turn that around and come out ready to play,” said Hoerster. “We’ve got a great opportunity to play a great team. We’ve got a little momentum and success going here, and hopefully our kids are going to enjoy this week, get after it at practice, and play their butts off.”

Hoerster also feels last season’s 10-7 win that snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Hilltoppers gives OPRF the belief it can defeat top teams.

“It teaches our kids that it’s possible. For so long, they’ve had our number,” Hoerster said. “It’s hard to visualize something you haven’t seen before, but these kids have seen it happen. Glenbard West is a heck of a football team and they’re going to be ready to roll, but at least we have that knowledge that we’ve done this before, and so that will give us a bit of a confidence boost.”

Game time is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

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