QB leads Chargers to huge win over Joliet West
Call Stagg’s weapon of choice Friday night the Adam bomb.
The description fit Chargers quarterback Adam Pilota in more than one way. Not only did the senior blow up any chance visiting Joliet West had of claiming a SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue victory, but he accomplished that by being the architect of several big plays, including three long touchdown passes — more commonly known as “bombs” in gridiron vernacular.
The most impressive aerial hookup was one between Pilota and Jack Duffner, which covered 80 yards and came soon after the Tigers had wasted a prime scoring opportunity of their own by fumbling the football into the Stagg end zone. The Chargers’ ensuing recovery resulted in a touchback that preserved a 13-7 lead, which was then increased by the Pilota-Duffner duo.
Duffner caught a second TD throw from Pilota, Tyler Mackessy grabbed two others totaling 115 yards, and for good measure Pilota also crossed the goal line twice himself, including on a 50-yard sprint.
And that still wasn’t the full extent of Stagg’s assault. Two touchdown runs by fullback Austin Kelly and sophomore Gary Kopca’s school-record 99-yard interception return inflicted more damage upon Joliet West and sealed the deal on a resounding 61-35 triumph for the Chargers in Palos Hills.
Coach Mike Fahey wasn’t certain if the point total established a single-game standard for Stagg, but he couldn’t remember anything bigger. That included during the Chargers’ 2002 run to the Class 7A semifinals, a season punctuated by three 50-plus-point contests.
“Our stat guy said the scorebook caught on fire,” Fahey joked of this latest barrage. “One year, I don’t know if we scored that many points for the season.
“Adam is running the option [offense] very well and we were clicking. We scored on all but one possession.”
More important than the points themselves was what they allowed Stagg to do. By virtue of their win, the Chargers moved within one step of playoff qualification. Encounters with Sandburg and Homewood-Flossmoor are still on the docket for Stagg (4-3, 2-3).
“This is special because the games in October mean something,” Fahey said. “It keeps the kids interested and it’s good for the school, so we’re happy. To get to the five wins would be a big accomplishment.”
Defeating either the Eagles or Vikings, of course, won’t be a simple task. Sandburg has dominated Stagg in recent years, which leads Fahey to wonder if the Eagles will really “see it as a rivalry game” this Friday in Orland Park.
“Stagg’s last win [against them] was in 2005,” he said. “Our kids understand what’s at stake and I know it’s an important game for both of us, but they definitely have had the upper hand. They’ve been beating us handily the last six or seven years.”
Doing the same thing to Joliet West didn’t seem plausible for the Chargers, who finished off a 40-0 triumph over Joliet Central on Oct. 7, two days after it had begun and only four days prior to Stagg’s matchup with the Tigers.
“Maybe the short week [of preparation] is good for us because it cuts out all the fluff and you get down to business,” Fahey said. “The kids answered the challenge and we had good tempos on [all three] days of practice.”
A fast tempo is what Joliet West prefers while in possession of the ball, and Fahey admitted dealing with that rapid pace wasn’t always easy for his defenders.
“They’re snapping the ball two or three seconds after the ref puts the ball in play,” he said of the Tigers. “They’ve been putting points up against some good teams.”
Between them, Joliet West and Stagg ran about 170 plays on Friday and accumulated nearly 900 total yards, over 500 of which belonged to the Chargers. Pilota figured in 380 of that with his 260 passing yards and 120 more on the ground. Kelly also eclipsed the 100-yard plateau in rushing.
“If you like offense, this was the game for you,” Fahey said.
Even though the Tigers racked up a hefty amount of yardage, Fahey had good things to say about his defensive unit, which was spearheaded by Kopca, Chris Grabowski (three sacks) and Ryan Slager. The coach pointed out that three of Joliet West’s scoring treks didn’t require the chewing up of much real estate, due to a couple long kick returns and a bad punt snap by Stagg.
“They didn’t really get big plays,” Fahey said of the Tigers. “We tackled a little bit better [after halftime] and we made some stops when we had to, so we kept a comfortable margin.”
The Chargers outscored Joliet West 34-15 over the last 24 minutes.
Joliet West 35