Spartans brave elements, down Kenwood in opener
While most teams waited, Oak Lawn celebrated.
Friday night brought forth heavy thunderstorms and, because of them, dozens of season-opening football games around the Chicagoland area wound up being postponed until Saturday. The Spartans and visiting Kenwood Academy forged ahead, however, albeit after a lengthy delay.
Kickoff didn’t occur until shortly past 9 p.m. on Friday, and by intermission — which took place well after 10 o’clock — the number of people in attendance had shrunk.
“We had sent the cheerleaders and band home, so we kind of had to create our own energy,” Oak Lawn coach Sean Lucas said. “I was worried about that [because our players] were kind of emotionless at halftime.
“It was like we were losing the game by a couple of touchdowns. We had to talk with raised voices, not because we were mad, but because we wanted to see some emotion.”
Considering that the Spartans’ lead stood at just 21-19 after 24 minutes, Lucas seemed to have valid reason for concern. But whatever he and his staff said to their athletes during the break worked out very nicely afterward.
Not only didn’t Oak Lawn ever relinquish its advantage, it established a much more comfortable margin for itself. The last two of Ray Howard’s five touchdown runs, plus an aerial strike thrown by sophomore quarterback Konrad Lach to Tyler Loehr allowed the Spartans to coast in as a 42-19 winner in their 2013 debut.
“We had penalties we need to clean up, but we came out well,” Lucas said. “I’m so glad we got that game in — we were laughing about being the only undefeated team in the south suburbs [at night’s end].
“I was very happy that things went well. It’s definitely good to be 1-0, especially coming off a 2-7 season. It’s huge and a big confidence boost.”
Lucas’ lineup featured several players appearing in their first-ever varsity contest. The offense alone included six newcomers, who were squaring off against a Kenwood defense that boasted a great deal of athleticism.
What the Broncos didn’t have, though, was an adequate answer for Howard. Oak Lawn’s most battle-tested performer on the offensive side, Howard reached the Kenwood end zone on runs of 6, 1, 5, 40 and 5 yards, and accumulated 218 rushing yards on 43 carries.
“He had a huge game,” Lucas said. “What was really amazing was that he seemed stronger after that 20th carry. We didn’t have to give him any breaks [later].”
Howard’s initial dash to paydirt enabled the Spartans to offset the Broncos’ game-opening kickoff-return TD. After Kenwood retaliated with an 80-yard touchdown on a hitch pass that caught Oak Lawn’s defense off-guard, Howard tallied once more to reinstate an edge for the hosts.
Next up was a mammoth 99-yard trek by the Spartans, which was highlighted by a Lach completion to sophomore tight end Joe Quigley that covered nearly 30 yards. That play-action pass placed Oak Lawn inside the Kenwood 10 and set the table for yet another short TD sprint by Howard.
The Broncos did score again prior to halftime, but after that the Spartans’ prevention corps grew some teeth. Kenwood didn’t seriously threaten to add to its point total over the last 24 minutes.
“They competed the whole game, but I think we wore them down,” Lucas said of the Broncos. “Our defense really played well and got after it.
“We put a lot of pressure on them and put them in a position to have to pass, and when they completed any, Isaiah Lindsey and Scott Quinn wrapped up real well. Anytime you have two corners who are willing to tackle, that’s a luxury.”
Kurt Kuzer (three solo stops, five assists, one tackle for loss), Joe Cosenza (two solos, three assists, three sacks, one tackle for loss), Vince Olejniczak (two solos, three assists, three tackles for loss, one sack), Joe Dodaro (one solo, four assists, forced fumble) and Joe Robinson (fumble recovery) were other defensive notables for Oak Lawn. Kenwood chose to double-team Spartans lineman Eric Arreola, but while he was kept fairly well in check statistically, others obviously benefited from the attention paid to him.
When asked if he was at all surprised by how quickly his younger athletes adapted to varsity play, Lucas said no.
“We’ve got a lot of competition at positions,” he said. “Knowing somebody’s on your heels wanting playing time keeps you sharp.”
What Lucas was pleasantly surprised about was the opportunity to get game film on Kenwood beforehand, not always the easiest task when Chicago Public League schools are involved. Since the Broncos’ style hasn’t really changed from 2012, Lucas felt Oak Lawn was able to prepare properly for the contest.
It’ll be a rush to do the same this week. The Spartans travel to Palos Hills on Friday to tangle with Stagg, but the Chargers did not play their opener against Hillcrest until Labor Day afternoon.
Oak Lawn 42
Kenwood Academy 19
Yds. rushing 262
Yds. passing 47
Total yds. 309
Fumbles lost 1
Had intercepted 0
OL — Ray Howard, 6-yd. run (Byron Duran kick)
OL — Howard, 1-yd. run (Duran kick)
OL — Howard, 5-yd. run (Duran kick)
OL — Howard, 40-yd. run (Duran kick)
OL — Howard, 5-yd. run (Duran kick)
OL — Tyler Loehr, 16-yd. pass from Konrad Lach (Duran kick)
Oak Lawn Rushing: Howard 43-218, Gipson 10-36, Lach 2-8. Passing: Lach 8-3-47. Receiving: Quigley 2-31, Loehr 1-16.