Getting early leads in games hasn’t been the problem for the Oak Park and River Forest High School football team this season.
Instead, finishing games has been problematic for the Huskies since West Suburban Silver play started, the worst occurrence happening Sept. 23 when OPRF — after leading the vast majority of the game — lost at Hinsdale Central 22-19 on a touchdown in the closing seconds.
However, on Sept. 30 at Oak Park Stadium, the Huskies started fast and finished strong in a 28-7 homecoming victory over Morton, snapping a three-game losing streak.
“Our effort was good,” said OPRF coach John Hoerster. “Hats off to Morton, those guys came ready to play. They’re a good, well-coached team that got after it and made some plays. We made a few more, and I’m happy with how the kids finished up.”
It took OPRF (3-3) just three plays to find the end zone as Tim Spillane caught a pass from Jack Gooch, broke a couple of tackles, and scooted 44 yards for a touchdown. Nolan Vitale booted the first of his four point-afters to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead at the 10:45 mark of the opening quarter.
Morton (2-4) had a golden opportunity to even things on the next drive as a Khalil Nichols fumble on a punt return gifted the Mustangs excellent field position at the OPRF 34. But the Huskies’ defense came up with a huge stop on fourth and goal from the 1, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Mustangs would eventually tie the game at 7-7 early in the quarter. Given another short field after Makhail Germany intercepted Gooch, the Mustangs cashed in when on fourth down from the OPRF 25, Julian Hernandez connected with Jeremiah Putterlik for a touchdown pass with 11:05 left in the first half.
After the teams traded multiple defensive stops, OPRF took the lead for good when Gooch found Tyler Davis open for an 11-yard touchdown at the 3:45 mark.
The Huskies blocked Hernandez’s punt deep in Morton territory on the ensuing possession, but Gooch was subsequently intercepted in the end zone. However, the OPRF defense stopped the Mustangs again, and with 12 seconds left before halftime, Gooch found Spillane for a 32-yard touchdown and a 21-7 Huskies lead.
After OPRF’s Jamari Williams turned away Morton with an end zone interception on the opening drive of the second half, Lemer Burnett started taking over offensively for the Huskies.
His 51-yard burst down the OPRF sideline set up his 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Huskies a commanding 28-7 lead with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
“It was my time to show what I can do,” said Burnett, who finished with 179 yards on 18 carries with a 9.9 average per attempt. “My linemen did some awesome things for me to get the yards that I got.”
“Lemer played a great game,” said Gooch. “We knew before the game he was going to have to step up, and he did a great job.”
The OPRF defense came up big once again in its own red zone as it turned away the Mustangs with a fourth-down stop on at the 3-yard line early in the final quarter. Then Burnett — filling in for an injured Eric Evans — cranked out runs of 16, 13 and 13 yards as the Huskies would chew up most of the remaining time.
Gooch completed 11 of 20 passes for 163 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Spillane caught four balls for 98 yards and two touchdowns for OPRF.
Defensively for the Huskies, Nichols had a team-high seven tackles. Faris Dispensa and Sam Gray each had six tackles, Jeremiah Williams had 5.5 tackles and shared a sack with Matthew Poe. Mekhai Tate had five tackles.
OPRF welcomes Proviso West for Senior Night on Oct. 7, with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m.
Fenwick cruises past Marmion
E.J. Hosty threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score as Fenwick (3-3) improved to 2-0 in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference White Division with a 35-6 victory at Marmion Academy in Aurora.
The Friars return to Triton College on Oct. 7, but they’ll be the designated road team when it meets St. Patrick, which also plays its home games at Triton. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.