PLAINFIELD – Matt Egly was eager to rejoin the Oswego football team’s starting defensive line Friday, even if the crisp, cool evening at Plainfield South for the season opener came in March.
“I’d much prefer to play in the fall, that’s the right atmosphere, but hey, I’ll take what we can get at this point,” said Egly, a senior. “But nothing compares to that first-game feeling, no matter what time of year. You can’t describe it to anyone who hasn’t played.”
The feeling was made even better by a shutout.
After a challenging start, the defense strengthened as the game progressed and helped the Panthers secure a 24-0 victory in the Southwest Prairie Conference crossover.
Quarterback Cole Pradel threw for 167 yards (12 for 23) and two touchdowns. Fellow senior Nik Hampton had 100 yards on six catches and a key 18-yard TD reception six seconds before halftime.
Still, Oswego couldn’t extend its 12-0 halftime led until scoring two TDs in the final seven minutes.
“I was expecting a bloodbath, but that was a good game. I liked where we ended on defense,” Egly said. “We had a little trouble at the beginning, but we had it solved.”
Egly contributed to seven tackles and a huge momentum swing just before halftime with Oswego leading, 6-0.
The Cougars had fourth-and-3 at the Oswego 27, but Egly’s quick rush hurried rolling quarterback Izaiah Huerta into an incomplete pass with 1:19 until halftime. Two plays earlier, Egly caused a 2-yard loss to the 32.
“It just means a lot to be able to contribute like that, stop a drive on a team that’s so run-heavy,” Egly said. “It feels good to finally show, hey, we’re getting what we came for.”
The Panthers then responded with an eight-play scoring drive culminated by Hampton’s TD catch in traffic.
“That six-point swing there was a huge difference,” Oswego coach Brian Cooney said. “Being a two-score game as a coach, in my mind, is just a different way to prepare or make adjustments. The kids responded, and it was nice to see us punch the ball in there right before the half.”
“It absolutely was (a momentum swing),” Plainfield South coach Bill Bicker said. “We had the look we wanted (on fourth down). Unfortunately, the pressure got to us. Credit to them. That’s football, right?”
Bicker also felt that the Cougars’ halted opening drive was just as important. They went 30 yards, mostly behind running back Keith Bronson (57 yards, 15 carries), until Joe DeMarco broke up a third-and-9 pass from the 27, and on fourth down Joey Lumino followed with an interception at the 10.
In the second half, the Panthers’ defense allowed only 54 yards and two first downs, and they gave up only 147 total yards for the game.
“It’s a challenging offense to defend because it’s unique. It takes us a while historically, and it did tonight,” Cooney said. “Our kids adapted and understood their schemes and did a phenomenal job getting the checks and adjustments as needed.”
Hampton dove to catch the perfectly threaded TD ball from Pradel. Oswego’s first TD came on the first play of the second quarter when sophomore Deakon Tonielli’s made a 19-yard TD catch in which officials ruled he was inbounds.
“(With) Cole, we’ve been playing with each other for a while. We have a good chemistry,” Hampton said. “He knows where to place it, so I just put my body out there. Wherever the ball is, I try to get my body there, make a play.”
The teams combined for five turnovers, three by Plainfield South.
Pradel had only three second-half completions, but a 12-yarder to Kevin Jurkovic set up Evan Brown’s 33-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 with 6:09 left. Iyron Young carried seven times for 48 yards on the next drive, scoring from the 2 with 2:19 to go.
The Cougars have 30 seniors and an impressive sophomore in Brian Stanton, who had 87 combined yards (56 rushing, 31 receiving).
“We did some good things. The best was in the response of our kids afterwards. They’re committed to getting better,” Bicker said.
“I kind of had a feeling that tonight was going to be sloppy. It probably is for most teams. When you play a team that’s that good with that much tradition,if you’re not 100%, it’s going to be very difficult.”