Joliet West pulls away from Joliet Central 69-12

Tigers improve to 4-1 with win over Steelmen

Joliet West’s Gavin Garcia eludes the last defender en route to a 66-yard touchdown run against Joliet Central on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Joliet.

JOLIET – For one half, the football battle of the Joliet public schools was pretty good.

Then Joliet West turned it on in the second half.

Gavin Garcia scored three touchdowns, Adrian Ramirez threw for three, senior Ian Farrell added two, and Joliet West scored twice on defense in the second half. It all added up to a 69-12 victory over Joliet Central in a Saturday Southwest Prairie East matchup at Joliet West.

The Tigers (4-1, 1-0) scored 41 of their season-high points in the second half. Not bad for a team that was without its starting quarterback (Juan Rico) and top linebacker (Micah McNair).

Ramirez, a junior, had a trio of touchdown passes and was 5 of 10 for 129 yards with an interception. Senior Alexander Cruz (5-of-5 passing for 89 yards) alternated with him and had one passing and one rushing score.

One of those touchdown passes from Ramirez was to Garcia to open the third quarter. On a second-and-20, Garcia was wide open on the left side. He caught the ball near his own 40 and was off to the races for a 75-yard touchdown, his third.

That made it 35-12 and started an avalanche of third-quarter points.

“We made some adjustments with Juan injured,” Garcia said of the Rico being out. “Now we have some competition for the backup quarterback.”

The Tigers do, but they also had some competition from Joliet Central in the game.

“Yeah, they were tough,” Garcia said of the Steelmen. “They were putting up a good fight and came out with energy.”

So did Joliet West in the second half. Marion Starks scored on a 13-yard end-around to make it 42-14. Then the defense started getting in on the act. Steelmen quarterback Paul Slick was sacked by Matt Marchiniak and fumbled. Jalen Johnson recovered, setting up the Tigers at the Joliet Central 18. On the next play, Ramirez found Farrell for an 18-yard touchdown.

The Steelmen fumbled soon after, and KeShawn Wiley, who was everywhere on defense for Joliet West, recovered. That led to Cruz scoring on a 10-yard run to make it 55-12.

Cael Karczewski returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown, and it was 62-12 with 3:19 left in the third quarter.

“I should have had a pick-6 (against Plainfield North), so I had to come back and get one,” Karczewski said. “In the first half, we were super flat. We switched up our coverage in the second half and didn’t look back.”

DeVante Morrow, a junior, added another pick-6 for the Tigers. This one was from 59 yards out and capped the scoring with 4:42 to play.

Joliet Central (0-5, 0-1) was dropped for a 27-yard loss on a fumbled snap on its first possession. Garcia (three carries for 79 yards) plowed in from two yards out on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage. On Joliet West’s next possession, Garcia galloped in from 66 yards out.

But the Steelmen showed they weren’t just going to go away.

Sparked by a 28-yard run by senior Jaylin Murphy, they had a third-and-11 at the 14. Slick found Christian Smith, who leaped up and hauled in a 14-yard touchdown on the right side.

In the final minute of the first quarter, the Tigers scored again on an 11-yard TD pass from Cruz to Parker Schwarting. Central answered when Murphy scored from the 1, and it was 21-12 midway through the second quarter.

Slick finished 7 of 16 for 87 yards and a TD, with Smith (five receptions for 73 yards, TD) his top target.

Central’s Jonas Gregory attempted a 37-yard field goal late in the first half, but it was blocked by junior Austin Kittl. The Tigers took over only to see Ramirez get intercepted by Smith, giving Gregory another opportunity from a little further distance. But the kick was tipped, and that’s how the half ended, with Joliet West up 28-12.

“I thought that gave Joliet West all the momentum by blocking the field goals,” Joliet Central coach Tom Hart said. “We’ve got to clean up our blocking up front. The tide turned quickly after that.

“Christian Smith is a player for us on all sides of the ball. But the age of our defense shows with only two seniors on that side of the ball.”

Joliet Central’s Harrison Majerus waits to snap the ball against Joliet West on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 in Joliet.