GLEN ELLYN – It was hot at Glenbard West’s Duchon Field Saturday. Darn hot. Real hot.
That was nothing compared to Hilltoppers’ junior running back Joey Pope.
Pope almost singlehandedly dispatched visiting Grandville (Mich.) 50-26 behind three touchdowns — a 9-yard run in the first quarter, a 30-yard scoring reception in the third on a swing pass left, and the cherry on top: An 86-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
All told, he finished with 132 yards rushing on 11 attempts and 54 receiving yards on three catches. Add in that kickoff return and that’s 272 all-purpose yards.
He’s got a lot of fans on his own sideline. Not that he didn’t already.
“Aw, yeah, he is something else,” said junior offensive lineman Chris Terek, who happens to be Pope’s best friend. “Every time.”
Added sophomore receiver Julius Ellens, who had a 53-yard touchdown pass of his own: “Joey is amazing. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. He does it all.”
Pope is nothing if not a student of the game, someone who will take time to explain its technical aspects, like his kickoff return, which utterly deflated the Bulldogs, from a suburb of Grand Rapids.
“We have a great scheme, a double-wedge, and my blockers just gave my a ginormous hole and I just used my speed,” Pope said. “I trust my teammates to make a hole for me”
It didn’t take long for Pope to make his presence known on a day where the temperatures easily exceeded 90 degrees.
On Glenbard West’s first drive, he connected on a 46-yard run on the Hilltoppers’ second play from scrimmage, setting up a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. Moments later, Pope trotted in with his first touchdown on a pass from junior quarterback Korey Tai.
Pardon the pun, but Pope was just getting warmed up.
The Hilltoppers owned a slim 15-8 advantage late in the second quarter when Pope got loose again for a 53-yard scamper, which set up a 7-yard scoring run from senior running back Jason Thomas.
Grandville made the mistake of kicking off to Pope to start the third quarter, and he made them pay, catching the ball on a bounce and riding his blockers up the middle for an 86-yard kickoff return.
Pope’s performance shouldn’t overshadow that of the Glenbard West defense, which put the clamps on a Grandville running attack that used 12 backs, none of whom rushed for more than 45 yards. While Pope was doing his thing, the defense stood their ground, never allowing Grandville to get into an offensive rhythm. The Hilltoppers were up 36-8 midway through the third quarter.
“My main concern was kicking it down their throats and beating them up,” senior defensive lineman Philip Dozier said. “Our Dark Side is coming around, and by next week, we should have a more dominant team.”
“After the first quarter, they were done,” added Terek, who got in a few plays at defensive end. “We outhit them, we outpushed them, they couldn’t hang with us. This gives us a lot of confidence that we’re in shape and we’re ready to go.”