A shortened week of preparation didn’t shortchange Stagg.
While the Chargers were glad to win their season-opener, regardless of when it finally took place, there was no denying that a weather-induced reshuffling of the schedule did them no favors. After beating Hillcrest on Labor Day, Stagg coaches had just three days to get their players ready for Oak Lawn’s visit on Friday.
As if that wasn’t a formidable enough task, it was further complicated by the fact that the Chargers’ home debut was also part of Stagg’s homecoming festivities. And the occasion would be heightened by the appearance of Amos Alonzo Stagg’s grandchildren, who were going to help celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.
But Chargers head coach Mike Fahey never let his athletes forget there was a game to be played. Despite all the apparent obstacles it was forced to clear, Stagg did so nicely, as it collected a 36-14 triumph over the Spartans.
The Chargers opened a season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2005, which, interestingly enough, was also the last time they qualified for the state tournament. Stagg hadn’t won consecutive games at any point of a campaign since 2009.
“Our kids were pumped and I’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” Fahey said. “To play two games in five days and execute a game plan as well as they did [on Friday] says a lot about them. Our seniors led the right way and everything just clicked.
“We know we still have a lot of work to do [to improve], but we’re 2-0 and this was the best I’ve seen us play against a good team at Stagg High School in a long time.”
The Chargers (2-0) shoved Oak Lawn (1-1) into an early hole by scoring twice within a few minutes. After running 12 plays and hitting a first-quarter payoff on Austin Kelly’s touchdown dash, Stagg’s defense pounced on a botched Spartans handoff during the latter’s initial series and tallied again two plays later when quarterback Adam Pilota bootlegged 8 yards.
“They were on an emotional high and we couldn’t weather that quarter,” Oak Lawn coach Sean Lucas said.
“It was a weird week for us, but there were no excuses,” Fahey said. “We just kind of worked on what we had to, lined up and let our fundamentals take control. With that start and an enormous crowd [behind us], the kids really responded in a great way.”
Lucas wasn’t so fortunate. While the Spartans finally broke through on quarterback Konrad Lach’s 9-yard keeper in the second period, they still trailed by two scores at halftime after Kelly raced 15 yards to the visitors’ end zone.
Oak Lawn had two solid chances to draw closer before the break, but came up empty both times primarily because of its own missteps. In the first of those instances, the Spartans couldn’t connect on a fade route and, thus, failed to exploit a Chargers cornerback who had slipped and fallen.
Then just prior to intermission, Oak Lawn ventured to the Stagg 30, but got pushed backward by a sack and false start.
“Five more yards [forward] and we could have tried a field goal,” Lucas said. “Even a field goal would have helped there. Any kind of points can build momentum.”
The Spartans had that concept reinforced to them at the start of the third stanza, when the Chargers embarked on a 13-play march that used up about eight minutes and extended the home team’s lead to 29-7. The mammoth trek was culminated by Jack Duffner’s 12-yard gallop to paydirt.
“Once we got to that point, we felt pretty good,” Fahey said. “Their defense looked gassed, [so] we just kept the ball on the ground.”
Stagg was so effective running the ball that it attempted only four passes. Rushing-wise, the Chargers amassed more than 300 yards. Chioke Elmore delivered their final touchdown on a 2-yard dash.
“He uses their personnel well,” Lucas said of his coaching counterpart. “They just came out and got us.”
Lucas had tried to sell his guys on the idea that they were experiencing a playoff atmosphere and told them they were still very much in the game midway through it, but there was no bouncing back once Stagg garnered its fourth TD.
“Our effort was unacceptable,” said Lucas, whose team notched its other TD on Ray Howard’s 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“The circumstances of the game starting like that didn’t help things. I thought that carried their emotions higher than they would have been, but we didn’t compete the way we should have and it was disappointing.”
Oak Lawn enters the South Suburban Conference Red portion of its slate Friday against Evergreen Park, which picked up its first on-field win of the season last week by rallying in the final minute to beat Phillips. Lucas admitted the Mustangs have “some fast kids and it’ll be hard to simulate certain aspects” in practice, but he simply wants to see more out of his own team.
In particular, he desires better tackling efficiency by his prevention-side group. Lucas wasn’t crazy about the fact that secondary man Ryne Melnick (nine solo stops, two assists) posted the most impressive stats in that category.
“It’s tough [for a ball carrier] to get out of a mob of tacklers,” Lucas said. “We just need to take care of ourselves. We need to shore up the disconnect between what we’re teaching and what the kids are doing on Friday night.”
Joe Robinson (six solos, two assists) and Kyle Kuzur (five solos, eight assists) were other main men on defense.
Stagg squares off with Lincoln-Way East in a SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue clash on Friday.
“No disrespect to Oak Lawn or Hillcrest, but our schedule gets a lot tougher,” Fahey said. “These [first two] games were huge for us because we put ourselves in a good position to get to the playoffs. It’s been a long time [since that happened].
“We talked to the kids about that. It’s been hard, but the kids are excited.”
Oak Lawn 0 7 0 7 - 14
Stagg 14 8 7 7 - 36
AAS — Austin Kelly, 4-yd. run (Athanasios Makris kick)
AAS — Adam Pilota, 8-yd. run (Makris kick)
OL — Konrad Lach, 9-yd. run Byron Duran kick)
AAS — Kelly, 15-yd. run (Dennis Egan, pass from Pilota)
AAS — Jack Duffner, 12-yd. run (Makris kick)
AAS — Chioke Elmore, 2-yd. run (Makris kick)
OL — Ray Howard, 6-yd. run (Duran kick)
Oak Lawn Rushing: Howard 19-129, Lach 5-25, McCarthy 2-8, Gipson 1-1. Passing: Lach 13-5-64. Receiving: Howard 2-32, Zurek 2-14, Scanlon 1-18.