Defense, special teams power Glenbard West past Naperville North
The revival of Glenbard West's offense grabbed most of the headlines during the Hilltoppers' six-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
On Saturday, it was the other units' time to shine.
Behind a 92-yard touchdown return by Mason Ellens on the opening kickoff and a sterling defensive effort, Glenbard West defeated Naperville North 23-8 in a Class 8A opening-round playoff game.
The Hilltoppers (8-2) held the visiting Huskies to just 27 yards of total offense and three first downs in the opening half as they jumped out to a 23-0 advantage.
Eli Limouris had an interception for the home team, one of three turnovers they forced. Maximus Hetlet and Joey Campanella added fumble recoveries.
"It's the preparation we do in practice and the detailed notes we take in film," said Limouris, whose INT came on Naperville North's first offensive play after Ellens' return. "So when we come into a game, it's like a practice for us. We knew what they were going to run and we executed against it.
"We knew they had a Purdue receiver (Luke Williams) and we knew their O-line was physical. But we were more physical and got the job done. We are happy to get another week."
Ellens set the tone with his heroics at the start, taking the deep kick up the middle before bouncing outside to the end zone. Jack Moellering accounted for the Hilltoppers' other two touchdowns, scoring on runs of 1 and 3 yards. He finished with 117 rushing yards on 24 carries. Glenbard West came in averaging 39 points per game during its win streak.
"When you open up the game with a kickoff return for a touchdown," Moellering said, "this takes the pressure off the offense and defense. And then our defense puts our offense in good spots every single game. Making stops, getting turnovers, it lets us do our thing (on offense)."
Aidan Nelson contributed a 29-yard field while Teyion Oriental ran for 55 yards on 15 attempts.
"I thought we played extremely well defensively in the first half," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet, whose team will now travel to take on No. 4 seed Edwardsville in the second round. "We got a little tired in the second half. They've got some dudes who you are trying to corral; they've got a lot of skilled receivers and they tempo you. But I thought defensively we held strong.
"Obviously when you score on the first play of the game, that's a nice thing. That first half, that was classic Glenbard West football. And Jack (Moellering) is awesome. He was a downhill runner all day. Naperville North's D-line is really good and it was tough sledding. But Jack was the guy today who made us go."
Glenbard West has made the playoffs in each of Hetlet's 16 years at the helm and has now emerged victorious in the first round in each of those seasons. The Hilltoppers also have two state titles, a runner-up finish and five additional semifinal appearances during this era.
"That's pretty cool," said Hetlet about his team's opening-round dominance. "We've been fortunate to have a lot of good seeds. I said to the guys, this would be one of the toughest first-round games we've ever played."
Naperville North (6-4), which won its final three games of the regular season, scored on a 7-yard run by Lonzo Duckworth late in the fourth quarter.
Jacob Bell threw for 205 yards, most of which came over the final 15 minutes. Williams had eight receptions for 73 yards and Ian MacConnachie hauled in four catches for 62 yards.
"Giving up that kickoff return to start the game," said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel, "things got a little away from us a little too early.
"Offensively we've kind of struggled all year. We are a big-play type team which is great but in a game like this, it's difficult because they aren't going to allow big plays."