Ellens' 4 TDs help Glenbard West pull away from Oak Park in 2nd half

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 his 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 has clearly run with it.

The Hilltoppers' junior on Saturday rushed for 206 yards and 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 the 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."

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

In the meantime, the Hilltoppers' backfield is 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 across the board, scored on a 6-yard TD run to cap a four-play drive that tied it 14-14 with 5:54 left in the second quarter, where it remained into halftime.

He broke off a 47-yard TD run on the third play of the third quarter for a 21-14 lead, and added TDs 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 for 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 were also hurt by two special-teams plays that both 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, meanwhile, hopes that 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 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."

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