Glenbard West's football team rarely needs a spark, but the Hilltoppers sure needed one on Saturday.
Trapped in a tight game against upset-minded Elk Grove, Glenbard West defensive back Joe Marconi provided that spark with a huge third-quarter interception.
The Hilltoppers rolled from there, eventually shaking Elk Grove for a 49-21 victory in the first-round of the Class 7A playoffs at Glen Ellyn's Duchon Field. Top-seeded Glenbard West (10-0) advances to play at No. 9 Libertyville (8-2) in next week's second-round matchup.
Sixteenth-seeded Elk Grove (5-5) used a pair of second-quarter interceptions, including one for a touchdown by Luc Dimaso, to narrow a 3-touchdown deficit to 28-21 at halftime. Mikey Maize then recovered a Glenbard West fumble just three plays into the second half, giving the Grenadiers the ball with a chance to tie.
With all the momentum in Elk Grove's favor, Marconi gave it right back to Glenbard West with an interception near midfield. Seven run plays later Scott Andrews scored from a yard out to boost the margin to 35-21,
Two more touchdowns in a span of 43 seconds put the Hilltoppers safely ahead at 49-21 four seconds into the fourth quarter.
"Coach (Chad Hetlet) wanted me to get that spark for our defense to start to get us going because we were slacking the first half," Marconi said. "Coach called some of us out, saying our playmakers need to make plays. He said, 'Let's get a spark,' and that's what I did."
Glenbard West enjoyed its typically strong start by breaking out to a 28-7 first-quarter lead behind touchdown runs by Scott Andrews and Devante Toney and long touchdown passes from Henry Haeffner to Andrews and Nathan Marcus. An 80-yard drive by the Grens led to Adam O'Malley's 12-yard scoring strike to Mike Bishoff.
The first 10 minutes of the second quarter went by quietly until an interception at the line by Johnny Assimakopolous set up Elk Grove at the Hilltoppers' 13. O'Malley's 11-yard touchdown pass to Kishan Patel capped the drive.
Two Glenbard West plays later, Elk Grove closed the half with a stunner as Dimaso's interception return for a touchdown gave the Hilltoppers plenty to think about with their big lead dwindled to 7 points at the break.
"We didn't start the game like we wanted to, put ourselves in a hole," said Elk Grove coach Larry Calhoun. "Coming into the game we really thought we had a chance to win, and the kids played like it. But it had to be our best game, and we had to be turnover free and maintain control of the ball. We played a real good football team and we weren't able to do that."
Haeffner threw for 188 of Glenbard West's 470 total yards as the Hilltoppers overcame 4 turnovers and 9 penalties for 80 yards. Andrews rushed for 101 yards. O'Malley completed 21 of 39 passes for 204 yards for the Grens, who also committed 4 turnovers.
"It was 28-7 and we shut down a little bit," Hetlet said. "You can't do that against good teams in the playoffs."
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