OPRF football: regular season review

Huskies earn share of Silver Division title as defense stabilizes squad

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By Marty Farmer

Sports Editor

The Oak Park and River Forest High School football team entered this season with several questions.

Specifically, would head coach John Hoerster be able to coach the team after a heart attack during the summer? Who would be the team's starting quarterback, Jaden McGill or Toby Kunkel? Could the Huskies' young offensive line perform under pressure?

About two months later, the answers are yes, McGill and yes.

Yes, John Hoerster returned in time for the season and has coached every game while inspiring his players by his positive attitude and energy. Yes, Jaden McGill beat out Toby Kunkel for the quarterback job. McGill is a sophomore quarterback that has a 7-2 record in his debut campaign. Kunkel, who started last year, provides the Huskies with depth at the most important position on the field. And lastly, yes the offensive line of left tackles Fabian Gonzalez and Tommy Cronin, left guard Ryan Schuler, center Henry Hart, right guard Ben Reniva and right tackle Tavell Gross has been the most underrated but arguably essential unit for OPRF

Here's a look back at a memorable regular season that turned out perhaps even better than expected.

WEEK 1: Waubonsie Valley 24, OPRF 17

 OPRF experienced a controversial ending in its loss against Waubonsie Valley.

With the Huskies on the move at the Waubonsie Valley 15-yard line and 15 seconds left in regulation, McGill attempted to pass but was sacked with nine seconds left. With no timeouts left, the Huskies hurriedly lined up in order to spike the ball and get one more play.

Unfortunately, Waubonsie Valley wouldn't let McGill get up after the aforementioned sack. For unsportsmanlike measure, the Warriors threw the ball toward the sideline to run the clock out. With about one second left, Waubonsie Valley was flagged for a delay-of-game penalty.

The Huskies should have received one more play after the infraction. They didn't. Ballgame.

"The explanation was that the penalty happened after the clock ran out," Hoerster said. "If it had happened before the clock ran out, then it would've been an automatic first down. (The refereeing crew) made the assumption that the clock ran out, but from where I was sitting, the clock hadn't run out."

McGill finished 17-for-30 for 175 yards and rushed 22 times for 48 yards and two touchdowns. Trevon Brown snagged eight catches for 101 yards and added 22 yards on three carries. Nazareth Bryant (5 carries, 25 yards; 3 catches, 33 yards) also contributed on offense.  

WEEK 2: OPRF 42, Downers Grove South 14

The Huskies bounced ball well with a convincing win in a conference crossover game. The offense scored early and often, while the defense began its run of dominance that would remain for the rest of the season.

WEEK 3: Hinsdale Central 7, OPRF 0

OPRF turned in a tremendous effort against Hinsdale Central. In particular, the Huskies' defense didn't allow any points and special teams also played very well at Dickinson Field in Hinsdale.

However, winning typically requires contributions in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams.

And while the Huskies win or lose as a team, it is undeniable their offense sputtered all evening against the Red Devils in a 7-0 loss.

"We just need to keep improving to get to the next level," Hoerster said. "Our defense and special teams look great. The offense has to evolve a little bit; we've got to get better. We'll move on and we've got other games to play. Either way, I'm proud of how our kids fought until the end (tonight)."

WEEK 4: OPRF 42, Morton 6

After getting blanked by Hinsdale Central 7-0 on Sept. 7, the Huskies came into Friday's West Suburban Conference crossover game against Morton looking for a win.

Mission accomplished as the Huskies routed the visiting Mustangs 49-6 to even their record to 2-2.  McGill (10-for-13, 111 yards) accounted for four touchdowns (2 running, 2 passing) for OPRF. For good measure Kunkel tossed an 8-yard TD pass to Bryant.

WEEK 5: OPRF 41, Proviso West 12

OPRF scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and two more in the second quarter to build a 34-6 lead. With a victory essentially in hand, The Huskies outscored the Panthers 7-6 in a pedestrian second half.

Defensively, the Huskies shut down Proviso West. OPRF forced five fumbles and recovered three. The Panthers rushed for 81 yards on 39 carries (2.1 yards per carry).

Cedric Cheatham led OPRF in tackles with seven and had a sack. Aidan Shea, Brian Ziech and Jaylan Pascascio had four tackles apiece, while Danny Francis contributed three tackles.

WEEK 6: OPRF 21, Downers North 14

After a 65-yard touchdown run by Bryant put the Huskies ahead for good at 21-14 in the third quarter, OPRF dominated defensively the rest of the way. In the fourth quarter, Downers Grove North failed to pick up a first down.

"We came out of halftime and said we've got to step it up; they can't score again," said Cheatham, who had a team-high seven tackles. "We've got to win this game for our team and that's what we did."

WEEK 7: OPRF, 42, York 21

Early in the fourth quarter of a tight game, McGill was sacked and lost the ball. The fumble was recovered by York at the OPRF 32. The Dukes took advantage with a short TD drive capped on a 3-yard pass play. The PAT cut the OPRF lead to 35-21 with 8:26 remaining.

But the Huskies put the game away on the next possession with a nice, efficient drive that ended with Robinson going to the house from 35 yards out. Henry Darrow's sixth PAT made the score 42-21.

WEEK 8: OPRF 10, Glenabrd West 7

A tradition of Glenbard West football is for its players to run up the hill on campus and ring the victory bell after each win. The theory being every Glen Ellyn resident will know when the Hilltoppers (colloquially known as Hitters) have prevailed.

However, the only sound heard Saturday was a long overdue celebration among the OPRF football players, coaches and fans.

The Huskies edged the Hilltoppers 10-7 at Duchon Field, snapping a 10-game losing streak against Glenbard West and symbolically shedding a few ghosts of Hitters past. 

"It's a great win for the program," Hoerster said. "Our coaching staff did a great job coming up with the game plan. In every phase, I think we went into the game feeling good about our plan. We had good practices during the week and believed we could win."

While kudos certainly belong to multiple Huskies, Darrow enjoyed game-winning honors by making a 41-yard field goal with three seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Cheatham was all over the field with 13.5 tackles, including two for loss. Pascacio had 5.5 tackles. Izaiah Ruffin, Ethan Reinhardt, Malik Donaly, Joe Phelan and Daemyen Middlebrooks added four tackles apiece.

"Obviously, we're ecstatic with the win because [Glenbard West] is such a good program," OPRF defensive coordinator Tim Fischer said. "We have nine seniors on defense. Our defensive line sets up our linebackers well to make plays."

WEEK 9: OPRF 48, Lyons Township 0

The Huskies clinched a share of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship with a 48-0 rout of visiting Lyons Township. The impressive victory marks the first time since 1998 that OPRF has been at the top of the conference

"It feels amazing," McGill said. "To be honest, we deserved it. We've worked since February and we've got a lot of good talent on this team. We played hard all season and this is the result."

OPRF finished the regular season with a 7-2 record and share of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division title along with Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central.

OPRF hosts New Trier in opening-round action of the Class 8A playoffs. The Huskies and visiting Trevians square off on Friday, Oct. 26 at OPRF Stadium. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.

-Melvin Tate contributed to this story.

 

Contact:
Email: marty@oakpark.com Twitter: @OakParkSports

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