Walker Owens’ late TD lifts Wheaton North past Geneva

Owens rushes for three TDs, catches score in 25-24 Falcons’ win

Wheaton North's Walker Owens (29) celebrates team mate Wheaton North's Rich Schilling (4) after scoring a touchdown against Geneva during a football game at Wheaton North High School on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

WHEATON – Wheaton North running back/defensive lineman Walker Owens downplayed his three rushing touchdowns Oct. 6 because they covered a mere seven combined yards.

Owens’ 26-yard receiving touchdown, by extension, seemed like something the Falcons senior could crow about.

Except he didn’t, instead going a long way to discuss how controlling the trenches propelled Wheaton North to a 25-24 home win against DuKane Conference rival Geneva.

“These games are always tough, you know. You’re getting hit hard and then you’re hitting hard,” Owens said. “I just love the game. Just getting to be in there with my guys. Games like that, they’re not always the flashiest. We had big plays. Tons of big plays. But really what it came down to was stopping the run.”

Wheaton North (4-3, 3-2) moved within a victory of becoming playoff eligible with two weeks remaining in the regular season while keeping Geneva (5-2, 3-2) from clinching a postseason berth outright.

The Vikings tempered a run of 19 straight Falcons points with a 17-0 spurt of their own, but were unable to hold on after a 33-yard field goal provided a 24-19 edge late in the third quarter.

Wheaton North's Matt Kuczaj (16) makes a diving catch against Geneva’s Dylan Reyes (5) during a football game at Wheaton North High School on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

Owens rushed for the winning touchdown from one yard out with 2:35 remaining in the game. A 50-yard trick pass play from quarterback Max Howser to receiver Hudson Parker, which also involved Owens and receiver Matt Kuczaj, helped set up the score.

The big gain came one play after the Falcons forced a Geneva turnover on downs, ending a Vikings drive that was extended by a direct-snap run by Michael Loberg on a fake punt that took the Vikings into Falcons territory.

“Gave us a shot to win there at the end with four minutes [left] and just didn’t get it done,” Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen said.

Coming off a three-point home loss to conference-leading Batavia in Week 6, Geneva challenged Wheaton North’s attack behind a resilient defense. Lineman Rocco DiLeonardi and others kept Howser on the run even as he went 15-for-19 passing for 311 yards and a score.

Geneva’s Nate Stempowski (3) carries the ball for a touchdown against Geneva during a football game at Wheaton North High School on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

Kuczaj caught six passes for 157 yards, including three receptions of at least 32 yards. His final catch went for 14 yards and sealed the outcome. Howser passed for a fourth-down conversion deep in Geneva territory in the closing moments with the Vikings out of timeouts.

“I said at halftime it felt like we were winning, but we were down two points,” Kuczaj said. “But, you know, the guys, they rallied. And I’m super proud of them. It wasn’t easy and we’ve got to clean up a lot of stuff, but we’re looking good.”

Thorgesen feels equally optimistic about the Vikings, who will aim to clinch a playoff berth with a Week 8 home win against St. Charles East (1-6, 1-4).

Geneva hung around despite playing without standout junior receiver Talyn Taylor (injury). Quarterback Nate Stempowski had 200 yards of total offense while rushing and passing for a score. Troy Velez ran for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“Extremely proud of my kids, OK,” Thorgesen said. “We’re going to learn from this, get better. We lost to a very well-coached team. Very tough team. Very good team. And you know what, I learned a lot about my players and my team this week and this game. And we’re going to come back and we’re going to fight like [heck] these last two weeks.”

With playoff eligibility in sight, so are the Falcons.

“We went into this game thinking we’ve got to win it so we don’t put ourselves in must-win situations in both Week 8 and Week 9,” said Owens, who rushed for 57 yards. “We knew we had to wake up and come here and make a statement.”