Things looked good early on for the Oak Park and River Forest High School football team at Downers Grove North on Oct. 14 as Eric Evans scored a touchdown from 1 yard out on the game’s opening possession.

But on a chilly and damp night, the Huskies — repeating a pattern for most of the season — couldn’t build on the strong start, and the Trojans rallied for three second-half scores to win 20-6.

“It was tough,” said OPRF coach John Hoerster. “[Downers North] is a good football team and made adjustments. Our kids fought hard, but at the end of the day, they made more plays than we did.”

OPRF kicker Gavin Johnson’s extra-point try was blocked to leave the score 6-0 at the 5:56 mark of the opening quarter.

On DGN’s opening drive, Noah Battle’s fumble was recovered by the Huskies’ Jeremiah Williams. But on a fourth-and-1 from the Trojans’ 44, Evans was stuffed for a loss, creating a turnover on downs.

In the second quarter, Khalil Nichols helped OPRF (4-4, 1-4 in West Suburban Conference Silver) maintain its lead by blocking a 29-yard field goal attempt by William Guerin. 

Downers North took the second-half kickoff and marched 68 yards on nine plays. Sam Reichert’s 46-yard completion to Ethan Thulin set up Josh Lambert’s 1-yard touchdown plunge, and Guerin’s subsequent point-after gave the Trojans (6-2, 3-2) a 7-6 lead at 7:33 of the third quarter.

After stopping OPRF, Downers North scored again when Reichert connected with Thulin for a 27-yard touchdown. However, Guerin’s extra point was blocked to leave the score 13-6.

In the final quarter, the Huskies started moving the ball. Three Jack Gooch completions and a 14-yard run by Evans had OPRF inside the Trojans’ red zone. But on first down from the Trojans’ 14, Gooch’s pass intended for Lemer Burnett was tipped and intercepted by Jimmy Janicki.

“They did a great job jumping the route,” Hoerster said. “The ball got tipped and landed in their arms.”

Downers North then embarked on an 11-play drive that took up seven minutes. Reichert completed a fourth-down pass to Guerin to keep things moving, and Lambert’s second 1-yard touchdown plunge with 2:13 left sealed the win for the Trojans, who clinched a spot in the IHSA playoffs.

Evans finished with 81 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and Gooch completed 16-of-24 passes for 137 yards and two interceptions for OPRF.

If OPRF is to make the state playoffs, it will need to defeat York in the regular season finale on Thursday, Oct. 20 at Oak Park Stadium. The Dukes (8-0) can not only clinch the WSC Silver outright with a win, but also the first perfect regular season in school history.

“It’s win or go home,” Hoerster said. “I’m really excited to see how these young men respond. Hopefully they come fired up and ready to go.”

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

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