Behind Julius Ellens’ 206 yards and 4 TDs, Glenbard West pulls away from Oak Park-River Forest

Glenbard West's Julius Ellens showed off his versatility and scored four touchdowns to help the Hitters beat Marist 33-31 on Saturday.

GLEN ELLYN – Julius Ellens already holds a rare distinction at Glenbard West.

In the spring of 2021, Ellens became the first freshman that Hilltoppers coach Chad Hetlet pulled up to varsity in Hetlet’s 16 years at Glenbard West. Through his first two seasons, Ellens played primarily receiver, but injuries to Joey Pope thrust him into the role of Glenbard West’s lead back.

Ellens clearly has run with it.

The Hilltoppers’ junior on Sept. 10 rushed for 206 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns, three coming in the second half. Glenbard West scored the game’s final 28 points and pulled away from a halftime tie to beat Oak Park-River Forest 35-14 in a West Suburban Silver opener at Duchon Field.

“I’m up for the challenge. Just follow the line and score touchdowns,” said Ellens, who rushed for 142 of his yards in the second half. “I used to play running back when I was younger and then transitioned over to receiver. I just want the ball in my hands.”

In Week 1, Ellens totaled more than 100 yards rushing and more than 100 yards receiving in a win at Marist, scoring four times (two rushing TDs, two receiving TDs) in a hybrid role with Pope sidelined while recovering from an appendectomy. Pope returned last week, but sprained an ankle after a handful of plays. Hetlet expects Pope, a speedy two-way standout, to be back in a few weeks.

In the meantime, the Hilltoppers’ backfield looks to be in good hands.

“Look, we all knew Julius was a special talent,” Hetlet said. “He’s been playing receiver. I would much rather have him in the backfield. He’s a very, very good running back, and we’re physical offensively, more physical than we’ve been in years.”

Indeed, that showed as the game wore on Saturday.

Ellens, running behind a huge offensive line that averages 250 pounds, scored on a 6-yard run to cap a four-play drive that tied the game at 14-14 with 5:54 left in the second quarter.

Ellens broke off a 47-yard TD run on the third play of the third quarter for a 21-14 lead and added touchdowns of 1 and 29 yards on Glenbard West’s next two drives.

“We felt like we had the momentum going toward us at halftime,” Ellens said. “We used that against them and we ran the ball down their throat. Our O-line, I say, is the best in the state. Chris Terek, Wisconsin commit, all of them are just huge. I just follow them.”

Oak Park-River Forest (2-1, 0-1), one of six West Suburban Silver teams that entered the weekend with 2-0 records, jumped on Glenbard West (3-0, 1-0) early.

Jack Gooch, a third-year starting quarterback, threw a 22-yard TD pass to Ryan Martin (seven catches, 85 yards) on fourth-and-10 – Gooch and Martin’s seventh scoring connection of the season – for a 6-0 lead. Gooch (19-for-30 passing, 198 yards) later threw a 27-yard TD pass to Eric Evans to put the Huskies up 14-7 with 7:06 left in the second quarter.

But the Hilltoppers’ depth and physicality, paired with 90-degree heat, eventually took its toll on the Huskies. Oak Park-River Forest plays seven starters both ways.

“Our guys are wiped,” Huskies coach John Hoerster said. “They scratched and clawed and did their best, but at the end of the day Glenbard West has tremendous depth. They separated that gap in the second half. Our guys competed but we ran out of gas.”

Hoerster’s Huskies also were hurt by two special-teams plays that led to scores.

In the last minute of the first quarter, a high punt snap bounced to the end zone, where it was fallen on by Glenbard West’s Filip Maciorowski for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Hilltoppers recovered an onside kick, which they turned into Ellens’ last touchdown.

“Against a team like that you can’t make mistakes,” Hoerster said. “If you give them freebies it’s really hard to recover.”

Hetlet hopes his team cleans up some things before a gauntlet of a schedule to finish the season – at York, Downers Grove North, Lyons and at Hinsdale Central (all but the Red Devils are 3-0). The Hilltoppers, with the youngest defense Hetlet has ever had, committed six penalties in the first half, two of which kept Huskies’ scoring drives alive.

“We’re growing and grinding. If we stop shooting ourselves in the foot we’ll be OK,” Hetlet said. “It’s a very competitive conference. We have to continue to get better.”