Avery Balogh couldn't help but savor the excitement of the moment Sunday afternoon.
The Glenbard West senior had just helped the Hilltoppers to a 21-7 victory against two-time defending Class 7A champion Wheaton Warrenville South in Wheaton on national television, so he had a lot to savor.
"It was unbelievable," Balogh said. "I'll probably never experience anything like that in my life again. It was just a great feeling and just the ultimate dream for a high school football player."
The Tigers (0-1) have been the Hilltoppers' nemesis the past two seasons, defeating Glenbard West in the 2009 state championship game and again in the 7A quarterfinals in 2010.
"That's Wheaton South we just beat there," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "It's just one game and it's just Week 1, but I've got to tell you, how about the performance out of our defensive kids? Oh my goodness. So much heart. We gave one (touchdown) up. That's a Division I running back (the Tigers' Dan Vitale) we were on all day, a good offensive line. One of the best programs in the country. It's a big, big win for us."
Michael Marston ended WW South's first possession with an interception, and the Hilltoppers took advantage on senior quarterback Justice Odom's 12-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Max Bruere for a 7-0 lead.
The score remained that way into the fourth quarter, though both teams threatened in the middle quarters.
A 12-play second-quarter drive gave Glenbard West the ball at the WW South 1-yard line, but the Hilltoppers fumbled on a quarterback sneak, trying to reach the ball across the goal line 15 seconds before halftime.
Glenbard West (1-0) fumbled the ball away again on its first play of the third quarter, Tigers senior defensive end Mark Rooney recovering and rumbling down to the Hilltoppers' 5. But the Glenbard West defense held firm, and WW South turned the ball over on downs at the 1. It was the most important series of the game, Hetlet said.
"That was major," said Hetlet, still impressed with what his team accomplished. "That's a confidence booster. This is Wheaton South and Red Grange (Field). You don't beat them here. You just don't beat them here. I don't care what you say, it's one of the best programs in the country, year in and year out, great coaching staff. You just don't beat them here."
"You've got to fight for every inch," said Vitale, committed to play at Northwestern next season. "It's a gridiron game. It's pretty tough. Glenbard West showed up and they played that tough. They stuck it to us there. You've got to have a lot of heart in that situation, and unfortunately we didn't get that done."
Glenbard West finally broke through the WW South defense again with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter, junior running back Joe Zito going over right guard from 2 yards out.
But another Glenbard West fumble -- the Hilltoppers lost all 4 of their fumbles -- gave the Tigers the ball on the Glenbard West 22, and Vitale needed just one play to reach the end zone, running up the middle to cut the lead to 14-7.
The touchdown gave WW South renewed confidence.
"Especially after a big play," Vitale said. "The whole game is all about momentum. A play like that you get a lot of momentum. That was a big thing for us."
But the Tigers couldn't get anything going offensively.
"I'll be honest with you. You can't practice lack of experience," Tigers coach Ron Muhitch said. "All-junior line, brand-new quarterback, basically a brand-new offense, and I thought it showed."
"Unreal (defense)," Hetlet said. "That's all I can say. That's an unreal performance, our backs against the wall how many times? They let one in. They wanted a shutout, but they let one in. It's just an unreal performance by a lot of gutty kids."
A WW South fumble with 2:29 to play gave Glenbard West the ball on the Tigers' 32, and after two Zito carries, Balogh went 18 yards around right end, diving into the end zone at the pylon to secure the win with a 14-point lead and just 1:45 to play.
"I was so happy," Balogh said. "I was just hoping I'd get into the end zone by the end of the game.
"We were talking about how we had to score there. I was telling Joey Zito I was going to follow him into the end zone, and I did. It just felt great."