Warren dominates the trenches in win over Oswego
One minor fact summed up Friday's 8A playoff game in Gurnee.
Oswego's first rushing play that gained more than 2 yards happened late in the third quarter and not until Warren had a comfortable lead. The host Blue Devils dominated both side of the line of scrimmage on the way to a 39-3 victory.
Warren's defense piled up 5 sacks and limited the Panthers to 130 yards of total offense. They'll face the winner of Lane Tech and South Elgin on the road in Round 2.
"We got told we were slacking last game, so we had to make up for that," senior defensive lineman Jeremija Hixson said. "Our physicality was just up there today. Our ends were shutting down the pass game, our inside guys were shutting down the run game. It was all flowing together."
Warren started the season with nonconference losses to Barrington and Maine South, but have now won eight in a row.
"We had a lot of sophomores playing up, a lot of juniors that had never played in a varsity game," senior DL Aidan Porreca said. "We had five returning starters on the defense as a whole. The first two games, the other six guys were going into it blind. They didn't know what to expect. They didn't understand the intensity of it until they were put in the situation."
Hixson and Royce Lopez collected 2 sacks each, while Porreca had one. On offense, Donovan McNeal rushed for 106 yards on 15 carries and sophomore Aaron Stewart had 93 yards on 17 carries. Jet sweep specialist Dajhir Gordon gained 49 yards on the ground and caught a 22-yard TD pass.
While Oswego's defense hadn't allowed more than 17 points in any game during the regular season, the Blue Devils were able to reach the end zone on their second possession. McNeal broke loose for a 52-yard run, setting up Stewart's 8-yard touchdown burst two plays later.
Oswego (6-4) followed with an interesting drive. It lasted 10 plays, but nine of those went for 1 yard or less. Junior QB Brett Connelly hit Jeremiah Cain for a 30-yard pass and Warren kept the drive alive twice with defensive holding penalties, but it eventually ended with a blocked field goal by Gordon on the last play of the first quarter.
A classic Blue Devils drive followed - 16 plays, 73 yards all on runs between the tackles. McNeal pushed into the end zone from 5 yards out and the 2-point try failed to make it 12-0.
Senior Nate Foster began the season as the starting quarterback, but was injured against Stevenson in Week 3 and junior Jack Wolf took over. Now Foster is back and splitting time behind center. He helped orchestrate a scoring drive in the third quarter that featured more outside runs. McNeal scored from 8 yards out, then X'Zavion Montgomery added an electrifying 80-yard punt return to make it 26-3 at the end of three quarters.
"It's really nice because they're both wide receivers and they've both quarterbacks, so we can break the huddle and you don't quite know what we're in," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "The thing is, Nate can throw it really well. Everybody thinks he's just going to run it but he can actually really throw it well."
Connelly connected with fellow junior Cain for pass plays of 30 and 38 yards. Connelly had to leave the game in the third quarter with a knee injury, giving way to sophomore Brogan Mello, but was able to walk off the field on his own.
"We proved a lot of people wrong," Connelly said. "We were supposed to go 3-6 and we definitely did better than that. Looking for next year to go a lot farther, that's what we're looking for."
McNulty had praise for Oswego junior Carson Cooney, calling him the best high school linebacker he's seen since Lake Zurich's Jack Sanborn, who is now playing for the Bears.