Winning over adversity : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Winning over adversity|
|Defensive stop seals Wolves' first SPC win since 2010 |
|by Laura M. Medina|
Head coach Tyson LeBlanc has been a breath of fresh air for Oswego East's varsity football program, but fans and players were likely left breathless until the final play of last week's contest at Plainfield South.
A tremendous defensive stand, however, made it possible for the Wolves to exhale, as a sack on the last untimed down of the game preserved a 32-27 victory against the host Cougars in the teams' continuation of their Southwest Prairie Conference schedules.
Through just four games, LeBlanc has been nothing short of impressive in his first season at the helm, as Oswego East opened the 2012 slate with back-to-back wins versus Rich South and Oak Lawn on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31, respectively, before stumbling with a 33-6 loss at Plainfield East on Sept. 7 in the SPC opener.
Aside from that, LeBlanc has seemingly inspired confidence in the Wolves (3-1, 1-1), who snapped an eight-game conference losing streak. They hadn't won in SPC play since defeating the Bengals on the road on Oct. 22, 2010.
"It tells them all to be ready, because we're coming for them," senior running back Chris Cooper said of the pending SPC competition. "Starting 1-1 in conference instead of 0-2 is going to help us tremendously."
While last Friday's games provided enough twists and turns to last the team for weeks, it was the final 11 seconds that were the most memorable.
After turning the ball over on downs with 18 seconds to go in the contest, Oswego East thought it had a victory lined up with Plainfield South backed at its own 14-yard line.
But Cougars quarterback Ricky Luna put together a pair of tremendous plays to extend almost the length of the field, as he found receiver Sam Wilson open on catches of 51 and 32 yards, respectively, to put them at the 3-yard line with one second remaining.
A Wolves penalty moved the hosts another yard closer to the endzone and provided them with a final untimed play in which they could have scored. That's when a pack of Oswego East defenders swarmed Luna at the 10, ending the game with a long-awaited SPC triumph.
"We put the pressure on the quarterback, forced him to pull it down and make a decision, and fortunately, we got to him," LeBlanc said.
"We didn't do a whole lot to help ourselves in the fourth quarter, but we talked about perseverance and adversity, and "What do you do?" situations."
Oswego East may have delayed itself a bit in finishing last week's game, but it wasted little time in getting its plan in motion. Following a quick Plainfield South three-and-out, a 41-yard pass from senior quarterback Sean Kennedy to senior receiver Chase Skenandore moved to chains to the 6-yard line, where Cooper punched it in for the score just nine minutes in.
"Coop's a tough kid," LeBlanc said. "Coming off a shoulder injury, he's just getting back to where he needs to be. He was the workhorse last year, and I promised that I wouldn't wear him out, but I'm still going to let him get the touches in to help our program."
After exchanging series, the Wolves pitted the Cougars against their own 11-yard line and forced Luna to fumble. Senior linebacker Gunnar Mlsna picked it up and scampered into the endzone for the touchdown. Junior kicker Jason Evans missed the extra point, but the visiting side held a 13-0 lead in the early going of the first quarter.
Plainfield South soon answered the call with a nine-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by running back Johnathan Kosirog's 6-yard score to cut the deficit. Five minutes later, it was the Cougars' defense stepping up in a big way, with defensive lineman Brandon Reyes intercepting Kennedy and running it 56 yards for the touchdown. Kicker Matthew Imburgia's point-after provided the 14-13 edge with 6:37 left in the half.
Oswego East capitalized on good field position in the final two minutes of the half, effectively moving downfield to the 5-yard line before Cooper muscled it in for another touchdown with 18 ticks to go. A blocked extra point, though, kept the lead to just 19-14.
"We knew they were going to play aggressive and hit hard, so we had different run routes organized, practiced hard all week and came up with a solid game plan and put it to work," said Cooper, who rushed 19 times for 47 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Wolves soon added to that advantage at the start of the third, as Kennedy (15-for-25, 234 yards, two touchdowns) caught Skenandore (six catches, 124 yards, touchdown) in stride for a 27-yard touchdown just four minutes into the quarter. The score was just 25-14, however, following a failed two-point conversion.
Plainfield South was forced out of its next series after three plays, and Oswego East needed just six of its own to return to the endzone, this time with Kennedy finding senior tight end Joe Talton open on a 33-yard play with about four minutes left in the third.
"Sean Kennedy does a great job," LeBlanc said. "He had a rough week last week, and to see him bounce back like that is what I would expect Sean to do. He's a resilient kid and a very intelligent kid. I told him that as he goes, our offense goes, and as good as he plays is as good as our offense is going to be."
It wasn't until the fourth that the Cougars mounted their comeback, as Kosirog's three-yard run just two minutes into the quarter made it a 32-19 game. Two possessions later, a handoff to Kosirog led to an eventual pass to Kody Voda for the touchdown. A failed two-point conversion kept it a 32-27 game before the final series of the night.
"We got stops in the first half and the third quarter when we needed to, but we really have to focus on playing four quarters of football, especially with the game we have next week," LeBlanc said. "We didn't do a whole lot to help ourselves out."
As exciting as things were for both sides, neither team had a particularly clean game, as Oswego East amassed 14 for a loss of 115 yards, and Plainfield South was whistled for eight and a loss of 85.
Still, LeBlanc is aware that the team won't be able to make changes in the span of just one week.
"We're getting there, and we're not where we want to be yet, but to have the success that we had (last week)...we had to believe.
"(Against Plainfield East), it was evident that we didn't believe as the game went, and you could see the reaction of our kids on the sidelines. Obviously, (last week) was a different story."
And the story continues for Oswego East on Friday as the team looks to continue its success at home in a much-anticipated matchup between nearby rival Oswego, which defeated Romeoville last Friday to improve to 3-1 on the season. In the previous meeting, the Panthers prevailed over the Wolves 35-28 at Ken Pickerill Stadium on Sept. 16, 2011.