Joey Pope’s spectacular conference debut highlights Glenbard West’s blowout win over Downers Grove South

Pope runs for 185 yards, scores three touchdowns in 49-0 Hilltoppers’ win

Glenbard West's Joey Pope (2) carries the ball during a game in Glen Ellyn against Downers Grove South on Saturday, Sep. 4, 2021.

GLEN ELLYN – Glenbard West’s Joey Pope introduced his dynamic running style to the West Suburban Conference on Saturday.

After playing safety in the shortened spring season, the junior running back opened eyes last week by rushing for 132 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a win over Grandville (Mich.).

But Pope’s first offensive action against a team from the Chicago area was even more spectacular. Pope ran for 185 yards and scored three TDs to spark Glenbard West to a 49-0 rout over Downers Grove South at Duchon Field.

“I have a big offensive line, and they make some big cutbacks lanes for me,” Pope said. “I thought we all had a great game.”

Pope, in particular, had a great game. Through two weeks, Pope has shown flashes that he’s the next in the line of all-state running backs to play for the Hilltoppers (2-0). He scored on flashy runs of 11, 50 and 32 yards to stake the Hilltoppers to a 35-0 lead at halftime.

Pope saved his best run for his final carry, stopping on a dime at the 8-yard line, juking a Downers Grove South (0-2) defender to walk into the end zone with 11:03 left in the third quarter.

His highlight-reel run even caused Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet, normally stone-faced and yelling throughout most games, to break out in a smile.

“I can’t explain it, for some people have it on a whole different dimension,” Hetlet said of Pope. “It’s almost matrix-like. Sometimes he just needs to go vertical, but he did a good job. He ran hard and our offensive line blocked well.”

Pope said he bid his time to get his shot to lead the offense, with his role increased following an injury to running back Nico D’Argento. His speed and cutback ability left the Mustangs’ defenders in a state of shock on Saturday.

“I knew I was going to get more carries after the spring,” Pope said. “I definitely had under double-digit carries last year, but back when I was freshman, I was a running back and worked hard over this summer. I trusted the process. I have some of the best coaches in the state. “We’re a powerhouse program for a reason. It’s been a dream of mine. I grew up watching Sam Brodner and Jalen Moore and Samson Zander were very good friends of mine.”

Downers Grove South coach Mark Molinari credited the Hilltoppers for executing their game plan. The Mustangs have been outscored 99-0 in two games.

“We’re a young team,” Molinari said. “We might have started five or six seniors. We want to be like that program. I thought our kids battled. I won’t question our kids’ effort. We have to clean some things up, to win ballgames, mainly penalties.”

The Hilltoppers’ defense did their part with a stout effort, holding the Mustangs to minus-one yard rushing and just 42 yards passing in the first half.  Glenbard West, led by Jack Oberhofer and Philip Dozier each racking up two sacks, finished with eight sacks, an interception and nearly had a pick-six return that was dropped.

“It’s all about executing your job, on the dark side defense,” senior linebacker Pat Shadid said. “It’s about playing fast, physical and free. We all did our job, so that made it difficult for them to get past us. It was a team effort, from the defensive line, linebacker and defensive backs. We did really well executing. It was special to get a shutout. We went out there and played physical and made the plays.”

The Hilltoppers held Downers Grove South senior wide receiver Eli Reed, a Northern Illinois recruit, to one reception for four yards. Reed did most of his damage punting the ball for the Mustangs.

“The linebacker filled the gaps and did good technique,” Oberhofer said. “We did very well filling the gaps and pushing running backs when they went up the middle. Our coaches really stressed to know where Reed was, not let him anywhere and hit him hard every single time and be physical.”