WESTERN SPRINGS – Jake Melion did not anticipate being York’s lead back Sept. 24, and felt the physical effects of the additional pounding afterward.
He wore them with a smile.
The York junior was thrust into a more significant role when starting running back Kelly Watson hobbled off with an ankle injury during the second series.
Melion took the opportunity and ran with it. He rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries to help power visiting York to a 27-14 win over Lyons in a showdown of West Suburban Silver unbeatens in Western Springs.
“I was just expecting to go in every other drive or so,” Melion said. “But when my name was called, I needed to step up. The O-line and the whole team did today. That was the reason for my success. Definitely a little sore, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
Melion’s final touchdown, from 14 yards out with 2:19 left, all but salted away York’s hard-fought win. As Melion noted, though, it wouldn’t have been possible if not for York quarterback Matt Vezza’s 44-yard throw to Luke Mailander on third-and-19 with the Dukes (5-0, 3-0) backed up at their own 11 and nursing a one-score lead.
“They made a hell of a play. Without them, we don’t score on that drive,” Melion said. “I knew when they made that play I had to keep holding onto the ball and keep pounding the rock.”
York coach Mike Fitzgerald wasn’t surprised to see Melion answer the bell when his number was called. The Dukes also won without injured all-conference linebacker David Loch.
“The great thing about this team, we have some really good depth,” Fitzgerald said. “The next guy is ready to step up. Jake is a very talented running back. They [Melion and Watson] can both go the distance and get the tough yards. It’s a great combination.”
Vezza was 13-for-20 passing for 209 yards and a touchdown and set up two Melion scores with long throws.
After dinking and dunking his way to his first five completions, Vezza went up top to Charlie Specht for a 53-yard throw that led to Melion’s 2-yard TD and a 6-0 lead with 7:02 left in the second quarter.
In the final minute of the half, Vezza connected with Specht on a perfectly thrown deep ball down the right sideline for a 43-yard TD and a 12-0 halftime lead.
“We were just trying to be patient with it, not force anything,” said Vezza, who also ran for 43 yards. “We knew our defense would take care of them. We knew we had it. We were patient until we wanted to take a shot.”
Lyons (4-1, 2-1), limited to 53 total yards at halftime, came alive in the second half behind junior quarterback Ryan Jackson.
Jackson completed passes to seven receivers in the second half. His 10-yard TD run capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive on the Lions’ first series out of halftime to cut the deficit to 12-7. York took advantage of a short field to go back ahead by two scores at 19-7 on Melion’s 23-yard TD run in the final seconds of the third quarter, but Jackson’s 5-yard TD pass to Travis Stamm completed a 10-play, 80-yard drive to make it 19-14 with 7:41 left.
Jackson was 15-for-22 passing for 169 yards, 120 of them coming in the second half.
“We became a little more aggressive in the passing game, which set up the run,” Lyons coach Jon Beutjer said. “We have some skilled receivers. Our quarterback is good. Sometimes you have a plan going into a game and it doesn’t work out. You have to go to plan B.”
Beutjer lamented missed opportunities in the first half. A sure touchdown was dropped on a deep ball on Lyons’ second play from scrimmage. Later, an offensive pass interference negated a sliding Graham Smith catch that had the Lions set up inside the York 40.
“We kind of beat ourselves a little bit, not to take anything away from York,” Beutjer said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
York looks ahead to a huge matchup with fellow unbeaten Glenbard West on Friday in Elmhurst. Last year, the Dukes beat the Hilltoppers 12-10 at Duchon Field on a last-minute field goal, their first win over Glenbard West since 2007.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Melion said with a grin. “We’re looking forward to it, and they’re looking forward to it. We’ll see what happens but I like our team.”