Rick Ponx makes no bones about it.
Plano’s football coach is not a big believer in moral victories, but he chalks up last Friday’s game with Richmond-Burton as a moral victory to build on.
The Reapers took the Rockets – owners of the state’s longest winning streak, now at 24 games – to the wire before coming up just short 21-14.
Richmond-Burton scored with just over a minute left, then recovered a fumble in Plano’s drive in the final minute.
Still, even in defeat, the Reapers opened eyes – and provided further validation with what Ponx is building in his third season as head coach.
“We needed that game,” Ponx said. “We have been waiting for years to see who we are and if we could play at that level and I think we proved it Friday night. We played them to the wire. That’s a state championship caliber team and we played them to the wire. It’s a shame that somebody had to walk off that field a loser.”
Plano’s defense, unscored upon going into Friday, gave up 283 yards (the Reapers actually outgained the Rockets 288-283), but held Richmond-Burton to its fewest points since its last loss in the 2018 Class 4A semifinals.
“We took everything they could send at us,” Ponx said. “Their two backs are really good and we were able to handle them. They got their yards but they didn’t score. We held them when we needed to, forced them into longer yardage situations. I think our defense played extremely well.”
Offensively, Ray Jones ran for 137 yards and Samuel Sifuentes was 7-for-12 for 92 yards and a touchdown. But Ponx identified Plano’s two turnovers as an area the Reapers need to clean up in close games like this one.
“We made more mistakes than they did and that’s what it comes down to,” Ponx said. “The first drive we’re at the 20 or 25-yard line and we dropped the ball. That can’t happen. Those are the little things that we need to clean up. We did’t lose our goal, we are still controlling our destiny. We need to learn from our mistakes and get ready for a tough Johnsburg team.”
Indeed Johnsburg, while 0-4, is a program with recent pedigree. Before the 4-5 2019 season the Skyhawks made five straight playoff appearances and were the Class 4A state runners-up in 2016.
Ponx is eager to see if his team can build on its performance against Richmond-Burton on the road.
“We go to Johnsburg and play at that level again and beat them soundly, our kids will know it’s for real,” Ponx said. “That’s the expectation. We did it once. Now can you do it week in and week out. That’s when you’re at the elite level.”
Opportunistic Oswego wins big: After a forfeit win over Joliet Central in Week 3, Oswego was back on the field last Friday, winning at Romeoville 61-20. Matt Jones’ interception was among five turnovers the Panthers forced..
“We ended up being plus-four on turnovers, forcing five,” Oswego coach Brian Cooney said. “That’s one thing we try to always do, hit a specific target and we keep a running total. If you’re going to be plus-four or plus-five and lose a game, something went drastically wrong. Even Batavia we were plus-two. It’s just guys being consistently around the ball, being ballhawks, being around the ball. That’s something we work on in practice.”
Oswego opens up Southwest Prairie West divisional play this Friday at home against Minooka. It’s a reversal from the last two seasons, when the teams met in the season finale in matchups that decided the SPC West championship.
Minooka, like Oswego, this year comes in 2-2, fresh off a surprising 37-36 loss to Plainfield Central. But don’t tell Cooney that the Indians aren’t up to recent vintage.
“They’re big, they’re aggressive on defense, offensively I could think of six numbers off the top of my hands who can make plays,” Cooney said.
Headlining that group is senior wide receiver Malik Armstrong, an NIU recruit.
“We just played them in April and he was good then, but he looks completely revamped with his ability,” Cooney said.
Andrew Zook getting it done on Yorkville D-line: Andrew Zook, in a different situation, probably makes for an ideal defensive end.
On Yorkville, though, he’s playing the three-technique position. And playing it quite well.
Zook, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior, is third on the Foxes with 22 tackles, five of them for loss, through three games. He had eight tackles alone last Friday in Yorkville’s 27-6 win over Plainfield East.
Not bad for a kid commanding double teams in his first varsity season.
“He’s playing that three-technique and it’s not easy to do; to have anybody on the line doing that is amazing,” Yorkville coach Dan McGuire said. “The fact that he is playing well not only on the defensive line but that position is a feather in his cap.”
McGuire said he felt Zook was a kid that Yorkville could have brought up to varsity as a sophomore, but wanted him to be able to play consistent minutes.
“We look at him, he’s a three-year varsity player that is even more hungry after playing sophomore football,” McGuire said. “Credit to him for putting a chip on his shoulder and doing what he’s doing. He’s an amazing kid. He doesn’t say a thing. I can’t get over what he’s done.”
While Zook used to play defensive end, he prepared himself well for the move inside by gaining 15-20 pounds during the offseason.
“Just trying to put on some extra weight to move people around better; I added some agility and some extra strength. I also worked on my technique to do better with my pass rush and get that extension to get hands off me,” Zook said. “It’s a lot more physical playing the three-technique. I have to deal with a lot more double teams. I have less space to work. That’s probably the biggest difference.”