Oswego Beats Thornton: Minooka & Plainfield South Eliminated From IHSA Playoffs

Oswego Beats Thornton: Minooka & Plainfield South Eliminated From IHSA Playoffs
The Big Play of the Game: LWE Griffins JJ Robertson & Jay Yancy Catch Plainfield South Cougars Dantrell Wright After 93 Yard Interception Return

IHSA Playoffs: 1st Round SPC Team Wrap-Ups:

Oswego 35 Harvey Thornton 13

The Oswego Panthers (8-2) started-off poorly against a clearly faster Harvey Thornton Wildcats (6-4) team and fell behind 7-0 late in the 1st Quarter when Sophomore QB Jowahn Brown hooked up with Sophomore WR Juan Wesley on a 31 Yard Pass Play. In all, QB Jowahn Brown completed 15 of 42 Passes for 237 Yards and 2 TDs on the evening while his primary target,  Senior WR Jamel Frazier, wound up with 111 Yards on 4 Receptions and 1 TD. Meanwhile, Oswego's MVP QB Ryan West was pressured early by a quick and relentless Thornton Defense and uncharacteristically missed wide open receivers downfield as the potent Oswego Offense was held to a paltry 15 Total Yards in the 1st Quarter.

However, Oswego Head Coach Dave Keely probably sensed that Oswego's return to post-season play would be a short-lived unless he made some adjustments. And I have to tell you, what Keely did next was brilliant. He scrapped his spread offense in favor of a full backfield and that immediately offered his QB some protection and the  extra time to make the right reads. QB Ryan West quickly found WR Elliott McGaughey on a 3rd Down Crossing Pattern for a 73 Yard TD and the game tied at 7. When the following Oswego Offensive drive started on their 20 Yard line you sensed that they had their confidence back. Ryan West handed-the ball off to substitute RB Brett Wainwright (who was playing RB instead of his normal WR position in place of the injured Mickeal Stewart) and broke it for a big 64 Yard gain. A few plays later, and on a 4th and 4, West tossed a 10 Yard TD to WR Jack Kwiatkowski. The Panthers were up 14-7.

Oswego's change of plans had opened-up the game and the Wildcats were unable to stop the Panthers. Just before Halftime, Ryan West again found WR Jack Kwiatkowski (3 Receptions 43 Yards / 2 TDs) for a 13 Yard TD Pass and the score stood at 20-7. Immediately after the half, Ryan West and Brett Wainwright went to work on the opening drive. Brett Wainwright (13 Rushes / 102 Yds / 1 TD) rushed 4 times for 17 yards before West found Junior RB Alain Dixon for a 35 Yard TD Pass. And after successfully completing a 2-Point Conversion, the Panthers were in control at 28-7.

The Thornton Wildcats, however, were not about to concede just yet and tried to get back in the game. Still, their next drive stalled and were forced to give the ball back. But Ryan West made an errant throw and Wildcats Jason Towns picked-him off. QB Jowahn Brown and Towns would then hook up for a 12 Yard TD. It was 28-13 early in the 4th. The Panthers, though were not about to let their opponent back into the game and began chewing up the clock. Brett Wainwright sealed the deal with a 1 Yard TD Run with a little more than a minute to go making the score 35-13. Game Over!

Oswego will host the East St. Louis Flyers (8-2) in the 2nd Round Saturday Afternoon at 3pm. I do like the the Panthers chances here and believe that Keely's full backfield strategy might work if employed. There is no doubt in my mind that the Panthers must offset the Flyers' speed. And believe me - East St. Louis has plenty of it! Especially their QB Lamontiez Ivy who also has a knack for finding his open man downfield. The Flyers also have a stellar running back tandem in Senior Jeremy Nicholson and Freshman Natereace Strong. They are plenty dangerous and will definitely test the Oswego defense all afternoon. This will be a big test for Oswego, but they do stack up well against the Flyers. However, I will have to say that this game can go either way. Let's Go Panthers!

Lincoln-Way East 35 Plainfield South 7

For anyone who wasn't at this game, the final result would seem to confirm what all the prep experts said of the Lincoln-Way East Griffins (10-0). The Griffins were supposed to steamroll their way into the State Finals and beating the Plainfield South Cougars (5-5) was just a foregone conclusion. Well, I think those expert predictions might be a bit premature because that final score was indeed misleading. I will have to say this too, I am not completely convinced that the Griffins are a sure thing to win the 7A Title! As a matter of fact, they may not even survive their next home game versus a tough Wheaton-Warrenville South Tigers (7-3) on Friday Night.

Don't get me wrong, the Lincoln-Way East Griffins are absolutely one of the Elite Teams, but as good as they are, they do have weaknesses that could be exploited. And the Plainfield South Cougars only confirmed my suspicions that the Griffins Secondary can be exploited. Although they have the ability and speed to compensate, a smart QB could wreak havoc on them by going over the middle or using quick slants. As for the Plainfield South Cougars, well, they were not nearly as good a team as the Griffins are this season. However, that didn't mean that a so-called weaker team couldn't upset a better team either. And they had that chance!

The Plainfield South Cougars came into Frankfort unafraid at the prospect of playing the Number 1 Seed. After all, everyone knew that all the pressure was on the Griffins and that they were supposed to be steamrolled. So instead of accepting the inevitable they decided to come out and play some Southside Football and it was inspiring from the onset! The Cougars Defense challenged the Griffins NCAA Division I Prospect QB Blake Winkler early and often. As a result, Winkler was having a hard time finding his game rhythm.

And one thing all football fans know, this is a game of rhythm and momentum. To those who don't want to read about the play by play below, I will say this much: Had it not been for two very poor defensive plays on the 1st 2 Winkler TDs and the failure to score after Cougars MVP Dantrell Wright's 93 Yard Interception Return - we would have maybe been looking at a very different game by the time the 4th Quarter came around. However, when it comes to all the accolades that Lincoln-Way East has earned over the years - well, they deserve every one of them. They were bent early and could very well have dropped this game had they not seized back the momentum when they absolutely had to do so. But that is what the really good teams do, isn't it? SPC Teams could learn a thing or two from how things are done in the Southwest Suburban Blue.

The Game:

The game started with Lincoln-Way East taking the opening kick-off. On their opening drive, Plainfield South's Senior DB, Steven Harris was able to read QB Blake Winkler (12/18 - 220 Yds / 2 TDs / 2 INTs) perfectly and stepped in between him and his receiver for an interception. The Cougars Offense, however, squandered that opportunity when their drive stalled. The Griffins began their second offensive drive from their own 6 yard line and proceeded to drive 94 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0 1st Quarter lead after Winkler found WR J.J. Robertson for a 30 Yd TD  on a 4th Down play. That was a tough defensive breakdown too as 2 defenders were stride for stride with Robertson and should have either been picked-off or batted down.

That defensive lapse, though, did not seem to rattle the Cougars. Late in the 1st Quarter, Plainfield South QB Austin Howarth (14/27 - 164 Yds / 1 TD) unleashed a laser over the middle to a streaking WR/DB Dantrell Wright. Wright (a member of Plainfield South's 2010 / 2011 State Record Track Team) exploded into overdrive as Griffins defenders could only watch him streak into the end zone for an 82  Yd TD Pass Play. After Sophomore K Matthew Imburgia converted the extra point, the score was knotted at 7 and it appeared as if there would be a good game. The Griffins, though, responded. On their next offensive possession, Blake Winkler was able to find WR Jay Yancy on the right side of the field for a 47 Yd TD and the score was 14-7 with 2:30 to play in the 1st. However, just as the first score, this was another Cougar defensive lapse that should have been repelled. I must admit, that misplay seemed to have rattled a few players as they looked at each other as if to say "how many times are we gonna get burned like this?"

And as any good team would do when they rattle an opponent - the Griffins now went for the jugular! Lincoln-Way East now methodically moved downfield into the Cougar Red Zone and it appeared as if the Griffins would score again and take control. As Winkler looked towards the right corner of the End Zone, Dantrell Wright was reading his eyes and would step in between the QB and the Receiver for a 93 Yd Interception Return to the Griffins 6 Yd Line. And it looked as if Wright would score the tying TD. J.J. Robertson and Jay Yancy, though, caught up with Wright for a game-changing tackle! And let me tell you - that was HUGE! The Griffins Defense tightened-up and forced a 4th and goal from the 2. After a Cougar timeout, the coaches decided to call for an inside run rather than going to the outside with an option play and it cost them dearly as the Griffins took over on downs. That stop was the Play of the Game!

The Cougar's were stunned by their inability to tie the score and LWE's coaching staff knew that this was the time for them to take the Cougars out of the game. The Griffins mounted a quick, six-play 98 yard drive that ended with a 12 Yd TD Run by RB Blake Anders and the score was now 21-7. Plainfield South had been softened up and were in deep trouble. Lincoln-Way East's Blake Anders would score on yet another TD run from the 7 and the lead was extended to 28-7 with 3 minutes left in the half. This game was for all intents and purposes over. Although the Cougars came out spirited in the 2nd Half they still could not get their Offense going as the Griffins took full control as Blake Winkler completed the evening's scoring by finding J.J. Robertson with a 3 yard TD pass for a 35-7 lead late in the 3rd Quarter.

About all that was left to do was for the Plainfield South and LWE Coaches to take their Starters off the field for the traditional and well-deserved round of applause in the 4th. Funny thing, though, the Plainfield South Coaching Staff wanted no part of that. Instead of giving those Seniors who played (and insert those who didn't play) in their last game for the "Southside" the recognition that they deserved and inserting next season's Varsity Players in the symbolic passing of the torch - they denied their players an ages old tradition. And I find that to be both strange and insensitive considering that many of the backup underclassmen helped the Cougars get into the playoffs down the stretch. So who knows what that was all about, but it was wrong and sends a bad message as to what "Team" means. Lincoln-Way East, meanwhile, did pull their starters and continued the tradition and I applaud them for it.

But just as important as the passing of the torch is, leaving starters in a game after it has been decided just isn't smart. One it opens up players to needless risk of injury and many of those players will still participate in other sports before graduating. Speaking of which, I was told that LB Jake Meeder busted his thumb late in the game and will probably miss part of his Wrestling Season. Secondly, giving underclassmen the opportunity to play in a State Playoff Game will only motivate next year's seniors to want to get back there for perhaps a third consecutive time and gives them the sense that all of their hard work was for something. And what about the those seniors who played very little? It was tough seeing their faces in the lot after the game. So, I know what these players must have been thinking and it wasn't about good things. Many parents in the stands were also left bewildered and angered and yes that does includes me. I do know one thing, though, when everything is said and done and we reflect back upon this season- the Plainfield South Cougars may have lost a little more than just a football game that night. And that is a shame!

As for the Lincoln-Way East Griffins, well, they earned this victory and must now face a team that is every bit as dangerous and potent as they are. The Wheaton-Warrenville South Tigers have endured their ups and downs this season but have now righted their ship and are peaking at the right time. Both teams, though, play in ultra tough conferences so neither will be intimidated by the other. The DuPage Valley and Southwest Suburban Blue are both tough as nails conferences that typically land 5 Playoff Qualifiers into the State Playoffs, so these are not only competitive teams but they are playoff-hardened ones as well. As such, it is probably prudent to call this match-up a toss-up. However, I do get the feeling that there just might be an upset in Frankfort Friday Night.

Naperville Central 40 Minooka 13

The Minooka Indians (6-4) were given one heck of a rude welcome into the world of Class 8A Prep Football as they were mauled by the Naperville Central Redhawks (7-3) 40-13. According to my Minooka spotter attending the game, the Indians were totally outclassed from the get go by a "smart playing team" from the DuPage Valley Conference. Although I had thought that Minooka would be the cream of the crop in the SPC this season, I have to admit that Oswego earned that honor when they won their Conference Championship Game over the Minooka Indians. I did, however predict that both these were the teams to beat in the SPC this season. But, I do know why I rated the Indians a slight edge though. They typically play both sides of the ball equally as well and this season was no different. Both the Offensive and Defensive Lines were exceptional and as such thought they had a good chance versus the Redhawks. Naperville Central, meanwhile, has been over-looked because of the other powerhouses in the DuPage Valley Conference. Let's face it, Wheaton-Warrenville South, Wheaton North and Naperville North seemed to garner most of the attention while Naperville Central flew under the radar this season. But don't kid yourselves, the DVC is as tough a conference as it gets and all its team are competitive!

Naperville Central typically uses the run to set up the passing game. However, Head Coach Mike Stine figured that the Indians would probably stack the box to prevent the run and had QB Ian Lewandowski go to the pass early. The Redhawks were up 6-0 after the first minute when Lewandowski hit WR John Dicianni with a 30 yard pass. The point after kick failed. Naperville Central made it 13-0 just before the first quarter ended when RB Matt Randolph sprinted 25 yards to make it 13-0.

Now, I have to tell you that my friend and spotter is a huge Minooka Indian fan, but I respect him and he does know football. So when he texted me and said "right up the gut - lines looking bad again tonight," well, you sensed that it would be a long night for the Indians. Although his 3rd text was encouraging when he proclaimed "Oops - Spoke Too Soon - Joe Carnagio to Luke Stovall on 83 Yard Bomb!" Okay then - I thought maybe that the Indians will settle down and get back into this game and thus keep our conference in the hunt. However, nearly every text update thereafter was one of utter disappointment, as mine would become. I felt bad for Minooka. Yeah, yeah, we do root against each other when our teams play against each other but we both want our conference teams to do well in any case. Especially in the playoffs.

The play that would break Minooka's back was when the Redhawks faked a punt on 4th down and Ian Lewandowski took the direct snap and threw to Matt Randolph for a 41 Yard TD. That made it 20-6 with 9 minutes left in the half! "Looking Very Confused" was his next text. Well, it was all downhill for Minooka after that as Redhawks K Tyler Gillen nailed a 40 yard FG to make it 23-6 at the half. Then at 8:30 of the 3rd, Tyler Gillen nailed another FG, this time from 35 yards out and the lead was extended to 26-6. That text update read "Not Looking Good." But the worst was yet to come when my friend really hit the roof after Naperville Central gave the Indians the ball at their own 25 Yard line and the next 4 messages read: "3rd & Goal throws to End Zone, 4th and Goal throws to End Zone - Naperville gets ball back and runs 8o yards up the gut to score, 33-6 with 3:30 left in 3rd - Game Over!" Naturally by that time the only thing left to do was lament over some dubious decisions made by our respective teams, but I have to admit when he texted that the "Redhawks look like the Green Bay Packers playing a Pop Warner team" I knew that our conference teams had a ways to go yet before they were ready to compete against the big boys of the elite conferences.

That 80 yard run up the gut, by the way, turned out to officially be a 78 yard TD for Matt Randolph (192 Yards Rushing, 3 TDs). After Naperville Central's Ian Lewandowski (219 Yards Passing / 2TDs; 48 yards Rushing / 1TD) completed the Redhawks scoring with a 20 yard run making it 40-6 at the start of the 4th Quarter, my spotter decided that it was time to go home and watch the rest of the World Series. But Minooka's RB Nate McGuire managed to score on a 3 Yard run to close the scoring for the night. For the evening, Minooka's MVP RB Kalvin Hill was held to 62 yards rushing on 10 carries (Final Season Stat: 1,341 Yds on the Season / 21 TDs)  and 1st Year QB Joe Carnagio completed 8 of 21 passes for 140 yards and 1 TD.

Naperville Central will host Belleville East (who upset top seed Waubonsie Valley) in the 2nd Round and will have a good chance to advance to the Quarterfinals.

As for the Southwest Prairie Conference, the Oswego Panthers are now our lone playoff representative and I wish them the best of luck. So Go Panthers and hey - Mickey - get them hands up when ESL QB throws - okay?

 

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