A year ago, York’s rebuilding process went into overdrive with a stunning 12-10 victory over Glenbard West in Glen Ellyn. The Dukes were looking for a signature win, while aiming to end a long series losing streak that dated back to 2007.
By beating the Hilltoppers on their home turf, the Dukes improved to 6-0 and gained a measure of self-confidence and respect within the state. With the help of a stingy defense, quarterback Matt Vezza managed to spark the offense by throwing for 119 yards and rushing for 110 yards in the West Suburban Silver Conference clash.
Flash forward a year.
York coach Mike Fitzgerald said Friday’s home game against the Hilltoppers (5-0, 2-0) is gearing up to be one of the biggest in program history.
“It’s definitely a big game,” he said. “This is a pretty special matchup that we’ve not really seen in our program. Our homecoming game against Downers Grove North was an unbelievable atmosphere and truly amazing with a very big crowd. It was loud and packed, so we showed we were able to execute in a crowd that size which should help us this Friday.”
With three blowout wins to open the season, the Dukes look to ride the momentum from the fast start to a conference title. Vezza said it’s been a magical season to date for the Dukes (5-0, 3-0).
“The team has been playing well, and the crowds have been exciting,” Vezza said. “We have some more big games coming up… (Friday) will be another fun game.”
Vezza said he’s aware that Hilltoppers, who defeated Marist in their season opener, are aiming for payback.
“We know they’re going to come out of the gates with a lots of intensity,” Vezza said. “We’re going do the same thing. We’re just going to focus on our job and play our game, and (hopefully) good things will happen.
“Glenbard West has a physical and overall good defense. Our offense plays one of the top defenses in the state every single day at practice, so should be prepared for Glenbard West.”
York defeated Lyons 27-14 last weekend behind a big game from Jake Melion. The junior carried the ball 24 times for 117 yards and three touchdowns to help absorb an in-game injury to starting running back Kelly Watson. Vezza was his usual steady self, completing 14 of 19 passes for 208 yards to go with a 43-yard TD to Charlie Specht.
Fitzgerald said his team must play sound football in all three phases if they want to knock off the Hilltoppers for the second straight season.
“They play smashmouth football and are really good on offense,” he said. “They have a lot of dynamic playmakers. Their offensive line is really good. Defensively, Glenbard West is also sound. We have to match that physicality and mindset. It’s going to be pivotal for us to maintain drives to help our defense out. We have won win the turnover battle and can’t give up any freebies and we have to play well on special teams.”
Journey from freshman ‘B’ to QB1 for Morton senior
Morton senior Julian Hernandez appreciates his current title on the team.
After opening his career on the Freshman “B” team, Hernandez worked his way up the ladder to earn the coveted QB1 title.
Yet, even as Hernandez has guided the Mustangs to a pair of victories, he can’t help but ponder his odd and long route to becoming the starting quarterback.
“Being the starting quarterback now after being the freshmen “B” team quarterback is one thing that I will forever remember,” Hernandez said. “But it’s a bittersweet feeling. I’m finally able to show my capability to lead the offense. I’ve worked so hard over the years to finally reach this point.
“It’s just bittersweet because the opportunity came in my last year. It would’ve been nice if it came sooner, but that falls on me. I could’ve worked harder at certain points over the years to reach this point…But I’m grateful that this moment finally came.”
The Mustangs (2-3, 2-1 West Suburban Gold) are also grateful that Hernandez made a graceful transition from backup to starter this season. He gained valuable insight starting “a few games last season” according to Morton coach Bob Organ.
“Julian is playing really well this year,” Organ said. “He worked his tail off all offseason. He’s an outstanding young man. He’s a competitor and fighter and gets the job done. That’s great to see as a senior, especially since he worked his way to become the starting quarterback. He came in every morning to work with our offensive coordinator. You can see his progress. It’s awesome.”
Hernandez credited his fast learning curve to his experience playing on the varsity last season. He showed off his moxie by tossing a 33-yard TD pass to Michael Barnes and an 8-yard scoring pass to Jeremiah Putterlik in a 27-17 loss to Hinsdale South on Friday.
“Learning the offensive system behind our senior quarterback last season was a real eye opener,” Hernandez said. “Varsity football is at a totally different speed, but starting that first game opened up my eyes to see that this game isn’t forgiving.
“I made sure I would dedicate myself, day in and day out, to improve from last year. My goal was to continue to improve on becoming a better leader for my team, and also working with my offensive teammates to take the offense to a higher level.”
As one of 36 seniors on the roster, Hernandez has been at the forefront of the Mustangs’ never-say-die attitude. Besides a 58-7 blowout loss to York in Week 2, the Mustangs have played inspiring comeback football in losses to Riverside-Brookfield and Hinsdale South. The Mustangs pulled out a thrilling 30-29 overtime win over Leyden in Week 4.
“This team is relentless,” Hernandez said. “We’ve always talked about being considered an ‘underdog’ and we feed off that energy.”
Organ joked his team’s cardiac ways have caused him to age several years. The Mustangs, who play at Oak Park-River Forest on Friday, trailed 15-0 to Leyden and 21-0 to Riverside-Brookfield before mounting comebacks in both games.
“We’ve got a great group of kids this year,” Organ said. “We’ve had a hard time getting over the hump. We beat ourselves and seem to stumble at the wrong possible team. We can’t always be beating ourselves. But this group is a joy to coach. There’s no quit in them.”