Title security : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Oswego football team posts sixth win, secures SPC championship |
|by Laura M. Medina|
It might not have been the most perfect of games for the Oswego football team, but when the final seconds ticked down, it was business-as-usual for the surging Panthers, who rode a 21-0 advantage en route to a 35-28 Homecoming victory last Friday night at Ken Pickerill Stadium.
Oswego (6-2, 6-0 Southwest Prairie Conference) claimed the conference title, secured its impressive 20th consecutive league win, and assured itself of a playoff berth on a special night in which the school celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 2003 state championship-winning team.
Amid the announcements of the Homecoming court and the buzz around returning alums, however, the Panthers did not get caught up the fanfare, racking up three touchdowns in the first 22 minutes of the game.
"There (was) a lot on this game - a berth into the playoffs, representing your team in the playoffs as the conference champion, and it's the last time this year that these kids will be guaranteed to play on this field; in my opinion and the kids' opinion, this is a special place to play," Oswego head coach Brian Cooney said.
"We came out hot, we came out ready, and then we slowed down for some reason, but when it's all said and done, we came out with the win."
After stopping the Cougars (5-3, 4-2) on a fourth-and-7 in their first possession, the Panthers took control at their own 37-yard line and moved the chains down to the 1-yard line, where sophomore quarterback Steven Frank called his own number for the touchdown.
With the extra kick, Oswego led 7-0 with 3:33 left in the first.
Another defensive stop put the Panthers back to work, and they wasted little time executive another successful drive, with Frank finding junior wide receiver Zach West (five catches for 40 yards) from 13 yards out for the score in the opening seconds of the second.
A 14-0 advantage to its name, Oswego returned on the ensuing series looking to stop Plainfield South, and it did, forcing quarterback Kody Voda to fumble and lose the ball at its own 3.
It was senior defensive lineman Peter Laughlin on the recovery, and with one snap on the next offensive possession, senior running back Tyler Walsh (23 carries for 79 yards; one catch for 70 yards) rumbled it in for another touchdown to put the Panthers ahead 21-0 with 9:39 left.
Down, but not out, the Cougars roared back with their own strong offensive series, setting up at their 34-yard line and creating the perfect seam for running back Joshua Harris to make his way down the visiting sideline on a 66-yard touchdown rush.
Matthew Imburgia's kick was blocked on the extra-point attempt to make it a 21-6 game.
Plainfield South hoped to continue chipping away at the deficit soon afterward, as defensive back Joey Ruske intercepted Frank at the Oswego 32, but the Cougars' series resulted in a turnover on downs.
That situation allowed the Panthers to increase the damage, and Frank (11-for-19 for 153 yards) found Walsh open on a 70-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Sophomore kicker Brice Robinson tallied his fourth extra point of the game to make it 28-6 with 4:41 remaining in the half.
"The kid is spectacular," Cooney said of Walsh. "He's a die-hard, he goes to the end of the whistle, and he does what he needs to do."
No sooner, though, did Plainfield South move downfield and swing the momentum, as Voda scored on a nine-yard keeper with 1:54 left. This time, Imburgia's kick sailed through the uprights to make it 28-13.
But the Cougars weren't quite done, capitalizing on their defensive stop and eventually on their next possession, as Voda connected with running back Anthony Woods on a 33-yard touchdown reception with 3 seconds left in the quarter.
Harris, then, ran it in for the two-point conversion to put his team within reach, 28-21, heading into halftime.
It was the first time since a Week 2 loss to Waubonsie Valley (40-21) that Oswego had conceded more than 13 points to an opponent. In fact, Panther foes were averaging just 8.4 points in the previous five games.
"We have to throttle them and keep them down when they're already down," Cooney said. "It was a strange game of momentum - one team had it, and then the other team had it, but we were just fortunate to have it when we needed it."
Coming out of the break, two offensive possessions by the Panthers had ended with punts, so they turned to the defense for help. It came in the form of a Walsh interception-return for a touchdown 5:56 into the third.
Walsh had a near-perfect read on Voda during the series, and he played it perfectly, running from 42 yards out for the score and giving Oswego a two-touchdown lead following Robinson's extra-point attempt.
Combined with senior running back Bryce Holm (11 rushes for 54 yards; three catches for 23 yards), the tandem carried the bulk of the rushing offense's load last week.
"Both of them can do so many different things: Bryce can do the grunt work and drag the pile, and we can split Tyler out into the slot," Cooney said. "Tyler's an excellent receiver and has already proven that he's great in the backfield and great on both sides of the ball. We depend on him offensive and defensively, as well."
Neither team scored again until the fourth, when the relentless Cougars executed a play from 20 yards out, as Voda found Harris open for the touchdown. Imburgia's kick made it a much closer 35-28 with 4:48 remaining in the game.
Instead of relinquishing under the pressure, Oswego stood strong as the game wound down, holding off Plainfield South for the eventual victory.
"I take nothing away from Plainfield South; they're a playoff-caliber team," Cooney said. "It definitely wasn't what we intended - for the game to be that close - but then again, Plainfield South is a team of athletes, and they're very good at what they do. When it's all said and done, I'm very proud of our guys."
Although Oswego came away with an important victory and remained untarnished in SPC competition, the team understands that there remains plenty of room for growth and improvement before the postseason begins.
To better prepare for the playoffs, the Panthers must not overlook their last opposition of the regular season, as they'll visit winless Plainfield Central on Friday at 7 p.m.
"With any coaching staff, you have your wrinkles, but when it's not broken don't fix it. I think we learned that there are some things that are broken, and we need to go back and reevaluate some things," Cooney said.
"There are going to be playoff teams that are going to want this film. Plainfield South is a playoff-caliber team, and teams that we're going to see in Week 10 and however far we're going to advance are going to have those same kinds of weapons, so we're going to need to be prepared for them."