Turnovers, tough losses fuel Wheaton Warrenville South to rivalry win over Wheaton North

Tigers get first win in rivalry since 2019

Amari Williams

WHEATON – Sean Norris allows his players 24 hours to either celebrate a win or hurt from a loss.

After an overtime loss the previous week, Wheaton Warrenville South needed little to no motivation with rival Wheaton North coming into Red Grange Field on Sept. 29.

The Tigers recovered a fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage as part of four forced turnovers and held off Wheaton North 20-17 for their first win in the rivalry since 2019.

In the previous three matchups, Wheaton Warrenville South (3-3, 2-2 DuKane Conference) had lost to Wheaton North by a combined six points, so this victory was even more personal.

“We knew it had been a while since we’ve beaten these guys,” Tigers running back Matt Crider said. “We said the playoffs started this week after our loss [the previous week to St. Charles North], so we knew we had to come in here, stick it to them and get a big win.”

Crider again was a mainstay for the Tigers offense, carrying the ball 39 times for 163 yards. While he knew he was going to get the ball more than anyone on the team, Crider was quick to deflect the credit to his teammates.

“We had a number of guys step up tonight,” Crider said. “That’s really what I loved the most about tonight. There were so many people that played a part in the win and I’m so happy how we came together as a group to get the win.”

The Tigers did not trail in large part because of the turnovers caused by their defense. Joshua Pratt recovered a fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage, which led to a Maison Haas field goal. Luke Dato intercepted Wheaton North quarterback Max Howser on the Falcons’ second possession. The Tigers drove down the field and Luca Carbonaro found Amari Williams for his first of two receiving touchdowns on the night – a 12-yard score – to give Wheaton Warrenville South a 10-0 advantage.

“We constantly talk about the importance of all three phases [offense, defense and special teams] working together,” Norris said. “The defense causing those turnovers was a huge momentum swing right away in our favor. This game is always going to be tight and points are the most important thing. I thought the defense bent at times tonight but didn’t break. They came up big when we needed them to and I’m really proud of the grit and determination that group showed to stick with it and never give up.”

Wheaton North (3-3, 2-2) battled back to trail by only three points at the halftime break before Williams’ second touchdown extended the Tigers’ lead back to 10.

An interception in the end zone in the final minutes by Wheaton Warrenville South linebacker John Jensen appeared to seal the victory, but the Falcons forced a punt and struck quickly.

Howser found standout receiver Matt Kuczaj for a 47-yard touchdown to cut the Tigers’ lead to 20-17, but the ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful.

Kuczaj finished with game-highs in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (154) and also blocked a field-goal attempt. Walker Owens made several tackles from his defensive end spot. Howser finished 22-of-39 passing for 330 yards in the loss.

Despite Wheaton North’s comeback attempt, Wheaton Warrenville South’s confidence remained high.

“We took that loss personally last week and weren’t going to let it happen again,” said Williams, who finished with seven receptions for 77 yards and two scores. “To come back and bounce back this week in this crosstown rivalry game is everything. We put our blood, sweat and tears into practice this week and have been looking forward to this game since last fall.”