Rush hour traffic coupled with a late start to the game conspired as plausible factors explaining the Oak Park and River Forest High School football team's slow start against Simeon on Friday at Gately Stadium.
Luckily, football is a game of two halves.
Trailing the host Wolverines by 16 points at halftime, OPRF rallied in the second half to pull off an inspired 29-28 nonconference win.
"We had a long bus ride here," OPRF coach John Hoerster said. "It took us about a half of football to wake up and find our groove."
The Huskies got their groove back with better defensive play, a healthy dose of running back Terrance Roundy, and clutch plays from wide receivers Craig Shelton, Trevon Brown and defensive lineman Izaiah Ruffin.
Trailing 22-6, OPRF went on an 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive that took 5:03 off the clock to begin the second half. Roundy carried the ball six times for 49 yards, highlighted by a 16-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-1 from the Simeon 16-yard line. John Mitchell tacked on a successful 2-point conversion to pull the Huskies' closer on the scoreboard at 22-14.
Roundy finished with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
"Terrance is a big-time high school player," Hoerster said. "He's a captain and a hard worker. He did exactly what we needed him to do."
The impressive drive energized OPRF on both sides of the ball. After limiting the Wolverines to a quick three-and-out series offensively, OPRF quarterback Brian May tossed a 55-yard TD pass to Shelton (2 catches, 69 yards). Roundy added a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 22-all with 3:41 left in the third quarter.
Simeon would not fold, however, as the Wolverines responded with an 8-play, 85-yard march to regain the lead. Quarterback Alante Brown threw his third TD pass of the night on a beautifully thrown deep ball to Marques Ray for 44 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter. Simeon missed the extra point attempt which would prove costly.
Trailing yet again, the resilient Huskies produced another long possession that lasted over seven minutes. Roundy maintained his workhorse ways, carrying the ball nine times for 41 yards, including his longest run (21 yards) of the game. A May touchdown from one yard out was wiped out due to a holding penalty, and OPRF turned the ball over on downs with 4:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.
After another excellent defensive stand and a short punt by Simeon, the Huskies were back in business at the Simeon 36 with 2:57 left in regulation.
The Huskies took advantage of their great field position as May tossed a 25-yard TD pass to Trevon Brown, who made a spectacular diving grab in the right corner of the end zone. OPRF made the PAT and took the lead for good at 29-28.
"Trevon is going to be a special player," Hoerster said. "He's at a different level and a phenomenal young man."
May finds a way
Although May struggled in the first half (1-for-5 passing), he contributed heavily to the Huskies' rally. The senior signal caller finished 4 of 10 passing for 90 yards.
"Brian had a first half that he's not going to want to remember," Hoerster said. "The great thing about Brian is that he's a competitor. He challenged himself in the second half and he made every single play he needed to make."
The Wolverines made a last-ditch effort to get the win. Brown (16-for-27, 201 yards) completed four passes, moving the ball to the OPRF 22 with one second left in the game. On the final play, the 6-foot-6 Ruffin sacked Brown to seal the victory for OPRF.
For all their offensive exploits, the new-look Huskies also excelled defensively in the second half. With 10 new starters, OPRF held Simeon star wideout Jayshon Jackson (Cincinnati recruit) to four receptions for 23 yards. Simeon only rushed for 54 yards.
Kudos to defensive coordinator Tim Fischer for putting together a solid game plan with essentially an entirely new unit against one of the better public league teams in Chicago.
"We played well, especially in the second half," Fischer said. "We made a couple of changes at halftime in terms of our scheme. The kids came through and executed well. Simeon made a couple of big plays, but man do they have some players."
Other positives for OPRF included no turnovers and only two penalties. Conversely, Simeon committed 10 penalties for 91 yards.
In the first half, Simeon dominated the action right from the start. Antwan Anthony returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown just 21 seconds into the game. Ali Alotbi kicked the extra point to give the Wolverines a 7-0 lead.
After a three-and-out series by OPRF, Simeon struck again with an 8-play, 42-yard TD drive and 2-point conversion to go up 15-0 with 5:31 left in the first quarter. Simeon quarterback Alante Brown (16 for 27, 201 yards, 3 TD passes) had the big play of the drive, a 38-yard completion to Leon Payne on a 3rd-and-20 from the OPRF 40-yard line. Three plays later, the Wolverines scored on a 3-yard TD pass from Brown to Jayshon Jackson. Jackson drew a celebration penalty after the score but immediately atoned for it by making a terrific over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone for a successful 2-point conversion.
Meanwhile, the OPRF offense struggled to move the ball on its first three drives. Both of the Huskies' first-quarter possessions were three-and-outs. OPRF did not record a first down until about 10:30 left in the first half.
However, the defense stopped the Wolverines on back-to-back possessions, and a nifty 20-yard punt return by John Mitchell set up OPRF at the Simeon 30 with 6:05 left until halftime. It took just five plays for OPRF to get its first touchdown of the season as Roundy ran into the end zone from two yards out. OPRF missed the extra point, however, and the Huskies trailed 15-6 with 3:54 left in the second quarter.
The Wolverines answered the Huskies' score with a 12-play, 61-yard march that culminated in Brown's second TD pass, a 14-yarder to Ce'Zaun Enge as the half expired. Alotbi's kick made it 22-6 Simeon at the half.
OPRF (1-0) faces Downers Grove South in a West Suburban Conference crossover on Friday, Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
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