Illinois High School Football News

Gavin Dooley, Minooka sneak past Oswego East

Indians’ convert big fourth down late, hold on to beat Wolves 16-13

Minooka's Gavin Dooley (11) after converting a huge first down late in the game against Oswego East.  Sept 30, 2022

MINOOKA – Matt Harding put faith in his big boys up front.

Minooka’s head coach was set to call his punt unit on the field with his team facing a fourth-and-1 at its own 29-yard line, nursing a three-point lead on Oswego East with just over three minutes left Friday.

His three senior linemen convinced him otherwise.

“Jeremy Marrero, Ryan Susnar and Carter Gessner, they looked me square in the eyes and said ‘Coach, I got you,’” Harding said. “They said put him behind us and there’s no way anybody is going to stop us.”

The Indians rewarded their coach’s trust and gutsy decision. Quarterback Gavin Dooley surged over the top to convert the fourth down, buying the Indians valuable time off the clock. Minooka held on to beat visiting Oswego East 16-13 in the Southwest Prairie West Division game.

Dooley, a senior, threw a touchdown pass to Joey Partridge in the first quarter. Then he ran in a 2-yard TD run with 10:51 left to give the Indians (5-1, 2-0) a 16-0 lead.

But no play was bigger than his 2-yard sneak over center, after Oswego East QB Tre Jones had directed two TD drives to close a seemingly comfortable margin to 16-13.

“Coach put it on us,” Dooley said. “He said, can you guys get it? He said if you guys aren’t confident we’ll get it, we’ll punt. We said let’s do it. I had 100% confidence my O-line would get it, and we could seal the game up.”

Oswego East's Robert Tyre Jones III (9) looks for an open receiver during varsity football game between Oswego East at Minooka.  Sept 30, 2022

Oswego East (4-2, 1-1) did finally get the ball back at its 40-yard line, but only with 49.8 seconds left and no timeouts. Jones threw for 22 yards to Jalen Lewis, but was sacked on the next play by Cayden Garcia.

With fourth-and-15 at the Minooka 42, the Wolves initially lined up for a 59-yard Owen Valek field goal. But after a timeout, they opted for a pass, which came up just short of the sticks.

“I was considering the field goal,” Wolves coach Tyson LeBlanc said. “If they wouldn’t have called a timeout, we were going to give it a chance.”

Jones, a Navy recruit, gave the Wolves a chance to steal a win late.

He left the game for two plays in the third quarter after getting the wind knocked out of him on a run. But Oswego East’s senior QB returned to provide some late magic, directing TDs on back-to-back fourth quarter drives.

“Proud of the effort of the kids,” LeBlanc said. “They could have easily folded the tent when we were down two scores.”

Jones threw a 20-yard TD pass to Mike Polubinski on a tipped pass, and after a Minooka three-and-out needed just four plays to score again. Polubinski made a nifty toe tap on the sidelines for a 7-yard TD to make it 16-13 with 4:30 left.

“I told the guys to keep their heads up at halftime,” said Jones, who was 13-for-20 passing for 142 yards and ran for 90 yards. “We have the ability to fight through adversity, and we showed it today. We didn’t really lose this game. We just ran out of time.”

Minooka's Joey Partridge (2) celebrates his touchdown run during varsity football game between Oswego East at Minooka.  Sept 30, 2022

Jones, though, lamented two turnovers on his part — a fumble and interception — which led to a touchdown and field goal for Minooka’s 10-0 halftime lead.

“Two early mistakes at my end. I got to be better for this team,” Jones said. “If you change those two mistakes, we’re probably tied or winning this game. The first five weeks, we might have been able to live with mistakes like that, but once you get into conference games there’s little room for error.”

Minooka junior defensive back Efrein Ramirez was at the center of both first-half turnovers.

He sacked and stripped Jones after Oswego East had driven into the red zone on the game’s opening drive, and Minooka’s Tristan Parish recovered. Later, Ramirez intercepted a high Jones pass, leading to Troy Hudak’s 22-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 5:09 left in the second quarter.

“Our coaches are big on forcing turnovers. At practice all the time we do drills,” Ramirez said. “It was a huge switch in momentum.”

Partridge ran for 144 yards on 27 carries, and set up Dooley’s TD run with a 32-yard run. On Minooka’s first series after Ramirez’s strip sack, Partridge took a third-down screen pass from Dooley for a 56-yard TD.

“It was an easy 5-yard throw, and then just let a running back like Joey do what he can do,” Dooley said. “Great win, wasn’t pretty, gotta clean things up, but we got the fifth win, playoff eligible.”