A man on a mission : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|A man on a mission |
|Graham breaks out for 245 yards, four touchdowns to snap Oswego East's 13-game skid |
|by Laura M. Medina|
Having experienced a drought in the win column since 2008, it was not surprising that Oswego East fans found it difficult to contain their emotions last Friday night, opting against the advice of game announcers by running onto the field to celebrate.
If they had it their way, the fans probably would have carried O.J. Graham on their backs after the way that the senior running back shouldered his team's load against Larkin.
Graham broke out for 245 rushing yards and four touchdowns, helping the host Wolves end a 13-game losing streak with an exciting 35-34 win over the Royals in a non-conference matchup on Senior Night
"We had a tough win," Graham said. "We still need to do some work, but this is a long season, and we're keeping our heads up. We're just enjoying it."
It would be an understatement to say that Friday's game was a relief for Oswego East (1-1), which lost 34-0 at Benet Academy in Week 1.
The team had not won since defeating Southwest Prairie Conference foe Romeoville 7-0 at home on Oct. 4, 2008, but head coach Mark Green says ending that skid was the last thing on his mind
"All I know is we're 1-1. I'm not worried about any streaks," he said. "We're 1-0 this week and that was our goal."
Before capturing that mark, the Wolves faced a tough test in the Royals (1-1), who secured an upset 35-21 victory over McHenry in their season-opener on August 27.
Each squad began the game with a three-and-out, but Larkin eventually succeeded in its next series behind quarterback Kyle Newquist's 14-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Whitehead for the game's first score with 4:54 remaining. Niko Morado attempted a two-point conversion, but his try failed and kept things at 6-0.
On the ensuing drive, Oswego East showed exactly what Graham could do. Deep in Larkin territory, junior quarterback Dakoda Skenandore (5-for-11, 53 yards) handed off to Graham for an 18-yard endzone scamper 1:19 into the second quarter. Senior kicker Danny Klingbeil added the extra point to give the Wolves a 7-6 edge.
Larkin looked to respond on its next possession, moving the ball downfield to the Oswego East 5-yard line. But T.J. Weaver fumbled on the carry and junior defensive back Tyler Glende recovered it for the Wolves. Oswego East, however, was unable to score on its following drive.
Quick to work were the Royals, who directed a five-play, 66-yard drive that ended in Newquist's 32-yard scoring pass to Whitehead with 2:44 remaining. After completing a two-point conversion, they were whistled for an illegal receiver, and the play was negated.
Larkin's second try for extra points was broken up by senior linebacker and captain Adam Rittmanic, leaving the visiting squad with only a 12-7 lead.
The deflection spurred Oswego East in its final possession of the first half. After junior running back Jake Aceret's two carries for 21 yards put the Wolves in Royals terrain, Graham took over with six rushes - the last of which was a 10-yard dash for a touchdown. Another Klingbeil kick gave the hosts a 14-12 lead with 0:17 left.
That did not leave the Royals with much time to work, and their final drive before halftime ended with a sack on Newquist.
Oswego East increased its advantage in the opening minutes of the third quarter behind Graham's 29-yard touchdown run. Klingbeil's kick then gave the Wolves a 21-12 advantage with 7:01 remaining.
But Larkin would not be easily suppressed. The team controlled the clock for the remainder of the quarter, scoring on a Newquist keeper from 1-yard out with 1:29 left. Newquist then connected with Whitehead for the two-point conversion to move within one of Oswego East.
The Wolves' next possession carried over from the third into the fourth quarter, but it was short-lived. Just 17 seconds into the final frame, Graham was unable to hang onto the ball, allowing Kory Plate to run it the other way for a 56-yard touchdown return.
Again, Newquist was able to find Whitehead for the extra two-point attempt, giving the Royals a 28-21 lead.
Down but not out, Oswego East turned up its aggressive play on the ensuing drive, with Graham's 25-yard carry bringing the Wolves to midfield. Two snaps later, Jake Aceret added a 10-yard gain followed by Graham's 13-yard rush.
The duo combined for 19 more before Graham's endzone run from 5 yards out. Klingbeil's fourth straight successful extra point knotted the score at 28 apiece.
"We've known for a while that O.J. Graham is a pretty special player, and we were just finally able to give him a little room to run," Green said. "He didn't have any big runs, but pounding things out - that's how you carry the football."
Larkin, however, rumbled back with its own tally. After driving down to the Oswego East 6, Newquist carried it in for the score, but he faltered on the two-point conversion to make it a 34-28 advantage with 5:07 left.
Oswego East, though, would not give up that easily. With the ball at the 48, Jake Aceret picked up a 31-yard gain. Graham then moved the chains down to the 6-yard line, where Jake Aceret drove it in at the 3:35 mark. Klingbeil added another extra point to give the Wolves a 35-34 lead.
To protect that lead, Oswego East's defense stepped up. After allowing Newquist to gain 11 yards, it limited the Larkin quarterback to just two on the next three plays.
On fourth down, junior defensive lineman Javier Chavez ended the Royals' drive with a sack on Newquist to give the Wolves possession at midfield.
Oswego East rushed down to Larkin's 23 before Skenandore took a knee to run out the final seconds of the clock.
"It was a battle to the end," Green said. "They played a hard-fought football for four quarters, for 48 minutes, until there was a minute on the clock. We've just gotta build on this now."
Graham also wants to build on his performance, which contributed to Oswego East's 362 total rushing yards.
"I had a good night,"Graham said. "I still have to work on some things, though."
Jake Aceret also totaled 12 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown for the Wolves, who finished with 415 yards overall.
Newquist, meanwhile, was responsible for almost all of Larkin's offense, rushing 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns, while going 13-for-21 for 209 yards and two more scores via the pass.
On the opposite side of the ball, senior defensive back Marcus Jones had four tackles, while Rittmanic chipped in two. Senior defensive back and captain Jon Aceret, sophomore defensive back Nolan Kopplin and senior defensive lineman Nick St. Clair each added two tackles.
Oswego East will travel to Plainfield South on Friday night to open Southwest Prairie Conference play against the 2-0 Cougars. Plainfield South opened the season with a 50-6 win over Chicago Raby and followed up with a 41-0 win against Joliet West last Friday.
"I hope we keep up our intensity, focus on our defense more and try to keep everybody up when we get down (versus South)," Graham said. "Really, I'm just going to take the same mentality and work hard. We worked hard for it tonight."