High stakes : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|High stakes |
|Oswego football works toward perfect SPC finish |
|by Kristin Sharp|
The Oswego football team has secured a place in the postseason and at least a share of the Southwest Prairie Conference championship.
But the Panthers still have plenty to play for in the season finale against Plainfield Central on Friday.
"As I work with the kids in this group, I realize not only how talented they are on the field, but how mature they are and how well they can put things into perspective," Oswego head coach Brian Cooney said. "I'm comfortable staying in the week because we know what's at stake. We're not looking past Plainfield Central.
"It's important for the kids to realize what a win on Friday night would do in their playoff run as far as first round opponent and home game. They know the importance of going into the playoffs strong, and we're fortunate to be playing Plainfield Central, who is a playoff-caliber team. This will be a good test. We don't want a team with a couple wins. We want to be tested so when Week 10 comes around, we're battle-tested and ready to go."
Finishing the regular season with an 8-1 record would likely guarantee Oswego home field advantage for the opening round of playoffs next week, and finishing the SPC season at 7-0 would prevent the Panthers from sharing the title with Plainfield North.
"If we're fortunate enough to come away with a win this week, we're anticipating a first-round home game," Cooney said. "Stranger things have happened, but if we take care of business like we're capable of - I'm not taking anything away from Plainfield Central - we're looking at a team that's 8-1 and we'd be conference champions. We're not in the business of sharing. We want to try to keep this thing for ourselves this year."
Oswego is currently ranked ninth in the IHSA's Class 7A playoff outlook, but holds the largest enrollment of any Class 7A school at 2,371.
Should there be a shake-up in Class 8A qualifiers, the Panthers could find themselves moving up to the larger class for the postseason.
Oswego will find out exactly where they fall on Saturday's Playoff Pairings Day, at approximately 9 p.m.
"I'm seeing anything from a No. 2 to a No. 3 seed in 7A, and I've even seen some 8A," Cooney said. "I'm not an expert on how they figure out who is in what class, but from what I understand, we're among the top so if you get an 8A school that gets bumped out and 7A school stays true to their bracket, we might get bumped up. There's no wiggle room for us.
"If we go to 8A, then so be it. I'm proud of the kids we have and although they're an 8A school, they still play by the same rules and still play 48 minutes of football," Cooney added.
Oswego enters Friday's game at Ken Pickerill Stadium averaging 42.1 points per game - something that has initially surprised Cooney in his first season as head coach, with a pair of first-year quarterbacks under center and several new contributors scattered across the field.
"Week after week, I'm less shocked that we've put up 40-some points and last week 50-some points," Cooney said. "I really didn't expect that at the beginning of the season. I thought we would see a lot of scores in the 30s and 20s. I didn't expect this, so it's a welcome surprise.
"Now that I'm at where I'm at in the season, I realize I shouldn't have been all that surprised with the coaching we have, the job that Marc Kersting and John Harazin have done along with coach (Ken) Pickerill on the offensive side of the ball. Our defense has stepped up and the two balance each other. I should have seen this coming, but I'm the kind of guy who has to see it to believe it."
The defense has been equally impressive - scoring two touchdowns last Friday at Plainfield South and holding teams to seven points or less in five of the last six games. The Panthers have recorded shutout wins against Minooka and Romeoville this season.
"Part of the reason that our defense is seeing so much success is because of the success our offense is having," Cooney said. "We put a lot of emphasis on controlling the clock and moving the chains. It takes a lot out of you to play defense comparatively to playing offense and you want to get your defense off the field as quick as possible and keep them off as long as possible. That's something we've been able to do in the majority of our games."
Last Friday, Oswego established an early 7-0 lead against Plainfield South after freshman quarterback Steven Frank (4-for-9, 102 yards) found senior Jack Kwiatkowski for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 3:14 to play in the first quarter.
"Plainfield South came out on their first series and moved the ball a bit, got some first downs, but ended up punting," Cooney said. "They just ground down all the way through with the freshman quarterback leading the way and punching it into the end zone."
The second quarter was all Oswego as the Panthers exploded with 32 points including a pair of defensive scores.
Senior running back Mickeel Stewart (81 yards, 20 carries) opened the quarter with a 25-yard touchdown run and junior Jason Kaney's extra point kick was good for a 14-0 lead.
Senior quarterback Brett Wainwright found Kwiatkowski for a 38-yard touchdown pass about two minutes later. The defensive unit helped expand Oswego's lead when junior Tyler Walsh had a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 26-0 Oswego lead.
With 53 seconds remaining in the first half, Kwiatkowski was once again on the receiving end of a Wainwright pass, this time for a 6-yard score and a 32-0 lead. Kwiatkowski was impressive on the night with a season-high six catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
"Jack Kwiatkowski had a night to remember," Cooney said. "He only had six catches, and that's a lot for him this year. He had a great game."
Oswego senior Jamaal Richardson added one more score before intermission with a 75-yard interception return into the end zone, and Kaney's kick was good for a 39-0 halftime score.
Oswego junior Bryce Holm capped off the Panther scoring with 2:01 left on the third-quarter clock, running the ball 13 yards to cross the goal line to start a running clock.
Plainfield South added a late touchdown on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter, and 90 seconds later, Oswego senior Jordan Noel scored from 45 yards out. Kaney's kick was good for the 52-7 final.
Defensively, senior linebacker Max Larsen forced two fumbles and had eight tackles in the game.
"It was an excellent win against a Plainfield South team that is talented in a lot of areas, and to win 52-7 is remarkable," Cooney said.