VILLA PARK – Senior night can be a memorable evening, in so many ways, for so many people.
Willowbrook celebrated its seniors Friday night prior to its game against visiting Glenbard North, and after the pregame ceremony was over, senior band member Nicholas Spera took some time to reflect on his years of participation.
“This means the world to me,” Spera said of the recognition he and his classmates received. “It’s like another graduation, only before graduation.”
“I love it out here (at the stadium). Everybody here is like another family to me, and I’m looking forward the rest of the year, to all the memories I’m going to make, and to what’s in front of me.”
Odds are, the game he witnessed Friday and the stirring comeback by the Warriors may turn out to be one of his favorite recollections.
Willowbrook spotted the Panthers the first two touchdowns but roared back with 27 unanswered points in a 27-14 nonconference win.
“I’ve got to be honest, we were a little down,” said Warriors senior linebacker Luca Parato of his team’s mood when the score was 14-0 Panthers. “But our leaders brought the tempo back up and our play on the field really helped.”
“We just decided to fly around and play as fast as possible. No matter what you’re doing, as long as you go 110 miles an hour, you’ll make the plays. Everybody stepped it up and turned on the jets.”
Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens attributed the complete turnaround of fortunes in the contest to a few Willowbrook defense stops, and the superior play of Warriors QB Arthur Palicki.
“We got stuffed on a couple fourth and shorts, then we couldn’t get our running game back going,” Wilkens said. “And their quarterback is pretty darn good.
“We’ve just got to go back and look for a silver lining.”
Running back Lucas Kramer carried the load early for Glenbard North, scoring two rushing touchdowns, both from two yards out.
Then Willowbrook (1-1) tied it at 14-14 before halftime when Palicki connected on TD passes to Kenneth Rhodes from 35 yards away and Jesus Gomez from 3 yards out.
The Warriors defense stepped up after halftime, with Parato making a big fourth down stop early to quell a Panthers drive deep in Willowbrook territory.
Then in the fourth quarter, the home team put the game away with a Palicki 3-yard touchdown run right up the gut, and a 42-yard touchdown toss from the QB to Carter Ferguson.
“This gives us a huge confidence boost,” Parato said. “Great night for the team. Glenbard North is an amazing program, they have amazing coaches, and this shows we can compete with the really good teams, the best teams in the state.”
“It (the victory) definitely gives us confidence,” Palicki added, “but we go into any week with just as much passion and drive to win even if we had lost.”