September 10th, 2019 12:00 PM
OPRF running back Nazareth Bryant rushed 16 times for 52 yards in a 21-6 loss against visiting Willowbrook on Sept. 6. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)
The start of the 2019 season figured to be a challenging one for the Oak Park and River Forest High School football team. As a young and inexperienced squad opening against two quality programs (Waubonsie Valley, Willowbrook), the potential was there for a sharp learning curve.
The Huskies' early-season struggles continued in a 21-6 loss to Willowbrook at Oak Park Stadium on Friday, Sept. 6.
Previously, OPRF lost at Waubonsie Valley 23-14 in its season opener.
It's the first time under head coach John Hoerster that OPRF has lost its first two games of the season.
"It's a team effort. We can't point the fingers at any one person," Hoerster said. "It's on all of the guys. We need to make a decision to turn the corner. Offense, defense and special teams all have to improve. The offense needs to put points on the board, the defense needs to get off the field, and our special teams need to be better."
On Friday, OPRF and Willowbrook went scoreless in the first quarter. The Warriors had the best chance score, but a bobbled snap foiled a field goal attempt.
Midway through the second quarter, Willowbrook went on an 87-yard scoring drive capped off by quarterback Sam Tumilty's 30-yard touchdown pass to Everett Stubblefield (7 catches, 73 yards). The PAT made the score 7-0 Willowbrook at the 6:11 mark of the second quarter.
The Warriors then recovered an onside kick in OPRF territory; however, Alessio Battaglia fumbled after catching a Tumilty pass a couple of plays later. The Huskies' Jaden McGill recovered the turnover.
The teams remained engaged in a defensive battle with the Warriors taking a 7-0 lead into halftime.
The Huskies received the ball to start the second half and embarked on their best sustained drive of the game. Facing a 4th-and-goal from the Willowbrook 2-yard line, McGill attempted a quarterback keeper to the left side of the line but was stopped short of the goal line, resulting in a turnover on downs.
After getting a defensive stop, OPRF was gifted great field position after a snap sailed over the Willowbrook punter's head and was spotted at the Warriors' 12. Five plays later, McGill's 2-yard TD dive pulled the Huskies within 7-6 at the 3:19 mark of the third quarter. On the two-point conversion attempt, OPRF running back Nazareth Bryant was stopped short of the goal line.
The Huskies' defense apparently recorded a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but a questionable pass interference penalty allowed Willowbrook to retain possession. Given a second opportunity, the Warriors cashed in as a Tumilty 21-yard run followed by a 22-yard reception by Stubblefield set up Tumilty's 3-yard TD run with 38 seconds left in the third quarter. Izabelle Manning's extra point raised the score to 14-6 in favor of Willowbrook.
OPRF moved the ball into Willowbrook territory on the next drive but turned the ball over on downs at the 36.
The Warriors (1-1) then put the game away on a 64-yard scoring drive. Tumilty's 34-yard strike to Stubblefield set up the former's third touchdown on the night, a one-yard plunge with 6:10 remaining in regulation. Manning's PAT concluded the scoring for the game.
Tumilty had a terrific outing for Willowbrook. He completed 10-of-18 passes for 104 yards and rushed 17 times for 104 yards. RB Ta'Vion Geanes also starred for the Warriors with 101 yards on 14 carries.
The Tumilty-led Warriors impressed Hoerster.
"They were really tough. They had some tough dudes out there that never came off the field," Hoerster said. "They have playmaking guys who were clutch and made plays when they needed to. Willowbrook is a solid team and coach [Nick] Hildreth has done an amazing job.
"[Tumilty] is a special player," Hoerster added. "He was electric. He's smart, heady and savvy. If I was sitting in the bleachers, he'd be fun to watch, but it wasn't fun to watch on the field."
The Huskies' offense struggled for the second straight game, finishing with 173 yards of total offense. McGill went 12-for-18 passing for 126 yards before leaving with an injury late in the game. Although McGill did have a rushing TD, he finished with -10 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Nazareth Bryant had 16 carries for 52 yards and wide receiver Eric Locke grabbed six receptions for 73 yards.
While the Huskies turned in a fairly solid effort defensively, giving up big plays was problematic similar to the team's Week 1 loss against Waubonsie.
"We hold tight and fight and then big plays happen. We have to be able to get off the field," Hoerster said.
Jake Birmingham led the Huskies with four tackles. Naahlyee Bryant had 1.5 tackles for loss, while Malik Donaly recorded 3.5 tackles and Stephen Waltower three tackles, respectively.
The Huskies will travel to Bennett Field in Western Springs Friday, Sept. 13 for the West Suburban Conference Silver Division opener against Lyons Township.
OPRF will aim to get in the win column against one of its toughest conference rivals.
"It's going to take our guys trusting each other and believing in themselves and their teammates and coaches," Hoerster said. "They need to decide that they're going to be some tough suckers and turn the tide here. Right now, I don't think it's a physical issue, it's mental. If we make that commitment, we've got a shot at a turnaround."
Under first-year head coach Dan Hartman, the Lions defeated Proviso East 31-20 last week to improve their record to 1-1. Moreover, given that OPRF routed LTHS 49-0 in last season's matchup, revenge is sure to be on the minds of the returning Lions' players.
"[Hartman] is a great coach. He's going to get that program into good shape," Hoerster said. "It's going to be a very tough game against a good, well-coached team. We're going to have to get after it this week."