Oak Park and River Forest High School kicker Gavin Johnson admitted to having butterflies as he trotted out late in the Huskies’ game against Downers Grove North to try a game-winning field goal.
“I’m not going to lie, I was shaking,” said Johnson. “I was really nervous, but I had to pull through for my team.”
And pull through he did, drilling a 31-yard field goal with 33.8 seconds left to give OPRF a 30-28 victory over the visiting Trojans on Oct. 15.
The most remarkable aspect of the moment was that Johnson is the backup kicker. The Huskies’ Nolan Vitale — the starter at the position — was unavailable due to a wrist injury suffered in practice earlier in the week, according to OPRF coach John Hoerster.
“Gavin hadn’t kicked most of the year,” Hoerster said. “Nolan has his wrist wrapped up and he might be able to play [next week], but Gavin came in and stepped up.”
After Downers North (4-4, 1-4) had rallied in the fourth quarter from a 13-point deficit to take a 28-27 lead with 2:30 left to play, the Huskies (4-4, 2-3) started their game-winning drive at their 32.
On second down, OPRF quarterback Jack Gooch (14-of-19 passing, 130 yards, 1 touchdown) found Ryan Martin for a 31-yard completion to the Trojans’ 37. A 4-yard pass to E.J. Locke and then four consecutive runs by Kelby Gray resulted in a fourth-and-1 from the 14, presenting a tough decision for Hoerster.
“We didn’t know if we wanted to go for it,” he said. “Do you put a kid who hasn’t been in this situation in? It really isn’t fair to put in a backup, but Gavin was kicking well during the week and seemed like he wanted the opportunity.”
There may have been plenty of nerves on the Huskies’ sideline, but Gray was confident Johnson would do his job.
“All we had to do was hit it and win the game. We had to do whatever we could,” said Gray, who had 154 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. “We played our hearts out tonight.”
The Huskies opened the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended on Gray’s 3-yard touchdown run middle run a little more than five minutes into the game. But it took DGN just 46 seconds to draw even as Sam Reichert found Ethan Thulin for a 72-yard scoring strike.
Later in the first quarter, OPRF defensive back Jacob Bickem came up with a big play, intercepting Reichert in the end zone to thwart a Trojans’ scoring threat. Then the Huskies embarked on another 12-play drive that ended in another Gray touchdown run — this one 15 yards — and a 14-7 lead at the 8:14 mark of the second quarter.
Downers North started the second half strong, marching 48 yards in six plays to even the score, but OPRF responded with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Gooch to Locke (7 receptions, 43 yards) to regain the lead.
Then after stopping the Trojans on downs at their 38, the Huskies claimed a two-score advantage when Dortch (8 carries, 62 yards) took it to the house from 35 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. However, Johnson’s extra point was blocked, leaving the score 27-14.
The Trojans rallied to score a touchdown on their next drive and, after stuffing Gray on a fourth-down play from the Huskies’ own 45, the Downers North tied things up when Reichert found Tommy Finley for a 22-yard touchdown pass. Sean Ryniec’s extra point gave the Trojans their first lead at 28-27.
“A ton of credit goes to DGN,” Hoerster said. “Every single year, they play us tough. They are so well-coached and are a tough group of kids. That makes me happy with how our kids responded; they bounced back.”
After Johnson’s field goal put OPRF back in front, Downers North had a final chance to win as Reichert connected with Finley for a 37-yard pass that put the ball at the Huskies’ 20 with 5 seconds left. But Ryniec’s 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right as time expired.
“This game, we kept getting back up,” Hoerster said. “[Tonight] was the first time we really believed we were going to win. You could see it on the sideline, they believed. That’s the attitude you have to have, and it’s so good to see it on the field.”
The victory keeps OPRF — which has won its last three games — alive for an IHSA state playoff berth. But in order to attain eligibility, the Huskies will need to go on the road Oct. 22 and defeat York, which will not be an easy task.
The Dukes are 7-1 and can clinch a share of the West Suburban Silver title with a win. While it’s a daunting challenge, it’s also something Hoerster and the players aren’t backing down from.
“All we can do is control what we can control,” Hoerster said. “We’ll enjoy tonight, watch film tomorrow, then put in a game plan Monday and take it day-by-day getting our work in. If we play with energy, excitement, and belief, anything can happen. Tonight taught the kids that.”
Friars rout Marian central to clinch playoff berth
Kaden Cobb’s 78-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Hunt Jr. on Fenwick High School’s first offensive play from scrimmage set the tone for the evening as the Friars routed host Marian Central 42-7 on Oct. 15 to clinch a spot in the IHSA state football playoffs.
Cobb finished the evening 11-of-22 passing with 183 yards and three touchdowns. He added 90 yards on the ground for Fenwick (6-2), which also received rushing scores from Luke D’Alise and Max Reese.
The Friars visit undefeated St. Ignatius on Oct. 22 for the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference White Division championship. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Chicago.