BRIDGEVIEW – Jack Gooch and Oak Park-River Forest, understandably, carried a chip on their shoulder into Saturday’s much-anticipated matchup with Fenwick.
The Huskies were 90 seconds away from reaching the playoffs last season. Then they had to sit home and watch their neighborhood rival, Fenwick, go on to win the Class 5A state title.
It added fuel to the schools’ first meeting since 1989 on the football field.
“I talked to the team before the game and I basically said nobody believes in us except for the guys right here,” said Gooch, OPRF’s senior quarterback. “This was an opportunity to play a team that we haven’t played in 33 years, and an opportunity to prove everybody wrong. We did that today.”
The Huskies indeed proved themselves, in resounding fashion.
Gooch threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, and OPRF forced six turnovers – three on interceptions from junior Khalil Nichols – to blow past Fenwick 35-7 on Saturday morning at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.
The Huskies scored 21 straight points in the second quarter, Gooch’s 5-yard TD run giving his team a 28-0 lead with 1:35 before halftime. Gooch was 18-for-30 for 234 yards, with 191 of his total in the first half.
OPRF quarterback John Hoerster couldn’t be happier for his third-year starter.
“He’s so smart, asks great questions, challenges ideas, really helps create the gameplan and the call sheet,” Hoerster said. “If he doesn’t get into coaching some day, I’ll be disappointed because he has a knack for it. My son just got into Jr. Huskie football and he looks up to him because he’s an amazing kid.”
Gooch’s favorite target, more often than not, was senior wide receiver Ryan Martin. Martin caught a 29-yard TD pass on fourth and 16 for the game’s first score, a TD set up by his 44-yard grab. He later caught a 25-yard TD to make it 21-0.
Martin had nine catches for 135 yards for the game.
“I’ve been playing with him since the eighth grade. We’re friends, we laugh, we have a great time,” Gooch said. “I trust him more than anyone. If there is somebody I’m looking for it’s definitely him.”
Fenwick, meanwhile, was playing its first game since winning its first state championship last November. I’s a new Friars’ team, painfully clear throughout Saturday’s game.
The Friars graduated 30 seniors off that team, 14 of them starters, led by Suburban Life Player of the Year and quarterback Kaden Cobb.
New Friars’ quarterback EJ Hosty, a senior, was 10-for-24 for 124 yards and was intercepted four times, three coming in the first half. Fenwick’s lone score came on Hosty’s 58-yard TD pass to Dennis Moore just before halftime. Junior Marek Hill came on in relief of Hosty late in the third quarter.
Hill looked to have his own long TD throw to Moore midway through the fourth quarter, but the ball was fumbled into the end zone and OPRF recovered for a touchback.
It was that kind of day for Fenwick.
“We just have to execute and play better as a team,” Hosty said. “Those seniors, we miss them a lot but we know we have the guys to get it done. We just have to execute better.”
Hosty, for his team’s struggles, didn’t appear overwhelmed by the moment, or the opponent. He started three games for Fenwick during the spring 2021 season when Cobb was injured.
“It was maybe a bigger stadium, but that’s about it,” Hosty said. “There’s always emotions when you play OPRF but I personally don’t know a bunch of those guys. But I know a lot of my teammates do.”
Eric Evans ran for two touchdowns, and Cameron Crape had the Huskies’ fourth interception.
Nichols had interceptions on back-to-back Fenwick possessions in the first half, the second setting up Evans’ first TD that made it 14-0. Nichols, a junior, played up on OPRF’s varsity team last year as the Huskies did not field a sophomore team.
“The thing people don’t know about Khalil Nichols is he’s our best scout team player too,” Hoerster said. “When we’re on offense we have to beg him to come off the scout team. He makes Gooch and Ryan and those guys better. He just loves to play, loves to play football.”