By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest High School football team kind of has the best of both worlds right now. The team is currently 5-0 with four blowout wins but also plenty of room for improvement.
A 44-20 victory against visiting Downers Grove North on Friday night exemplified how difficult it is to beat the Huskies, even when they aren't always at their best. The Trojans hung tough early with OPRF, trailing 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
The Huskies' edge in talent soon took hold, however, as OPRF reeled off 37 unanswered points to build a 44-7 lead. Downers Grove North tallied two TDs in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
"Honestly, the way Downers was getting first downs was not the way we anticipated them getting first downs," OPRF coach John Hoerster said. "They did a good job throwing the football tonight. That's not their forte, but their quarterback stepped up and made some good throws and their receivers made some good catches. There were a few times we didn't get stops, which we have done all year, but the defense has been tremendous all season.
"On offense, we can't have three-and-outs. We also can't put ourselves in long distance situations due to silly penalties. The good thing is these are things we can clean up. I think the silver lining in all of this is that we played pretty well (tonight) and we still have room to grow."
OPRF started the game in auspicious fashion. Playing before a packed crowd in their Homecoming game at OPRF Stadium, the Huskies scored on their first possession when quarterback Jeremy Hunt threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to running back Jamarri Watson. Keegan Smith's PAT gave OPRF a 7-0 lead with 9:42 left in the first quarter.
Downers Grove North responded with a TD of its own on quarterback Quinn McAnally's 2-yard TD pass to Connor Olson to make the score 7-6 in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
Although the Trojans established a time of possession edge early in the game, OPRF also appeared a bit flat in the first quarter. The Huskies made some mistakes, notably dropped passes, which has been a recurring issue this season.
"When we drop balls, we just shake it off and get to the next one," OPRF wide receiver Davion Talbert said. "Defenses have to look out for us. We have a lot of guys who can make plays.
"Playing tonight at home in front of our home crowd is amazing. We're ready for the next game (York); just make sure they're ready."
OPRF's Eddie Gorens scored on a 9-yard run, extending the lead to 14-6 with 10:24 remaining in the second quarter. Hunt threw one of his best passes this season when he bought some time in the pocket with improvisational scrambling before firing a 19-yard pass to Talbert in the left corner of the end zone with 41 seconds left until halftime.
OPRF maintained its momentum in the third quarter via senior running back Antonio Cannon's 48-yard TD run and senior Keegan Smith's 28-yard field goal.
Leading 30-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Huskies scored twice more within a 45-second span. Watson scored his second TD on a 16-yard run and linebacker Kohri Blair added a scoop and score fumble recovery which made the score 44-6 with 10:32 left in the game.
Hunt went 12-for-22 passing for 157 yards and two TDs, while Cannon paced the ground game with 109 yards on eight carries. Watson rushed 11 times for 28 yards and caught two passes for 56 yards.
Despite the aforementioned pass drops, OPRF features a cadre of talented wide receivers with size and speed. 6-4 junior Jared Scott, who has been playing well of late, had three receptions for 36 yards and senior Cole Fields caught six passes for 34 yards. Breshawn Wilkerson, an invaluable two-way player (wide receiver/linebacker), and Talbert each added a reception.
Defensively, Jahmari Moore continued his stellar play with a team-high seven tackles and an interception. Recruiters from Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Indiana State and Davenport University attended Friday's game to see the rangy 6-3, 210-pound middle linebacker in action.
Blair (6.5 tackles), Keyon Blankenbaker (5.5 tackles), Rolliann Sturkey (4.5 tackles) and Ryan Molina (4 tackles) also led the defense.
Five games into the season, it's apparent the Huskies have talent and depth. Even more encouraging, chemistry has surfaced as a critical component in the team's success midway through the season. Simply put, the players genuinely get along and support each other.
"I've known most of the guys on since I was real little. I've played multiple sports with all of them," Molina said. "They're all phenomenal guys and phenomenal athletes. I love being around them. Coming to practice every day and just getting better with my teammates is the highlight of my day."
Senior defensive linemen Connor Nelson added: "We decided to come together as a team this year. Chemistry has been huge for us. On defense, we just play responsibility football and trust each other."
In addition to a bond among the players, the Huskies have also benefitted from a discernible home field advantage at venerable OPRF Stadium.
"There's no better place to play and no bigger home field advantage," Hoerster said. "Our student body is just phenomenal. I love knowing that the kids are having fun and also appreciating the players on the field having fun. We have a great band, cheerleaders, drill team and tremendous support from the community. It's just a really neat place to play and we don't take that for granted."
Answer Book 2018
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