VILLA PARK – Trailing Willowbrook late in the third quarter Friday, the York football team was in need of a spark.
The Dukes ended up finding an unlikely hero.
Brian Filosa’s punt return for a touchdown turned out to be the game-winning score in York’s 14-10 victory in the West Suburban Conference crossover in Villa Park.
The junior caught the punt at his own-35 yard line, found a seam up the middle and then cut to the Dukes’ sideline on his way to the end zone.
“The blockers made a lane for me,” said Filosa, “and I ran through it. The blockers made it easy for me. This was an important win. This season’s been really fun, winning is fun.”
Indeed York (7-1) has been doing a lot of winning, aside from last week where the Dukes saw a 16-point fourth quarter lead evaporate in a heartbreaking 27-23 loss to Hinsdale Central.
Fittingly the visitors found themselves in a similar situation on Friday, with the Warriors inside York territory twice in the final stages. But the defense, which has now allowed just 71 points on the season, held firm, forcing one turnover on downs before Matt Sutter picked off a pass with under a minute remaining.
“It was similar to last week, nearly identical,” said senior defensive end Everett Snyder, who notched a sack in the fourth quarter. “I heard guys on the sideline saying we have to respond and we did. It was perfect. I couldn’t be happier. And we had a lot of guys contribute.
“This was huge. Coming off that loss last week, obviously we wanted to go undefeated but building momentum going into the playoffs is huge for us. We have some of the best coaching in the state, I honestly believe that. Our defensive coordinator is amazing. We have trust in the game plans and it’s paying off.”
The Dukes first touchdown came on a 2-yard run by Mark Schneider early in the second quarter. Schneider finished with 50 yards on 13 carries, Kelly Watson rushed for 61 yards on 13 attempts and quarterback Matt Vezza ran for 120 yards.
York ends the regular season with a home matchup against Oak Park-River Forest and would grab a share of the Silver title with a win and Glenbard West victory over Hinsdale Central.
“That was fitting to kind of have the exact same situation (as last week),” York coach Mike Fitzgerald said. “We were able to come out with those stops at the end. Finding ways to win is the mark of a good team. Willowbrook’s a great program and they know how to win these types of games too. So that was definitely a big win for us.
“And I think Brian (Filosa) embodies a lot of what this team is about. We have a lot of talent on this team and we have a lot of guys who might not be playing as much as they would want. But they’ve stayed positive and worked hard in practice and right there, he was ready for that opportunity when it came. He embodies the team first attitude of this group.”
Willowbrook (5-3) took a 3-0 lead on the opening possession of the game with a 35-yard field goal by Adrian Guerrero. After the visitors went ahead, the Warriors went back on top with a 3-yard touchdown run from Evan Stubblefield shortly before halftime.
Filling in for an injured Josh Brown, Jaylon White rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries and Nick Mabutas caught seven passes for 60 yards.
Despite the loss, Willowbrook clinched the West Suburban Gold title and the resulting automatic playoff bid courtesy of Downers Grove South’s win over Morton.
“I thought our guys played really hard and I thought their guys played really hard,” Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth said. “There was just some stuff we left out there. We got to clean some stuff up.”