When 140-pound sophomore Jonathon Doyle, the smallest player on the football field, scampered 55 yards for a touchdown late in the first half of Friday's home opener for West Aurora, the Blackhawks didn't just lead Plainfield East 6-0. They sensed an opportunity to secure the school's first 2-0 start under third-year coach Nate Eimer and set themselves up for a shot at West Aurora's first playoff berth since 1994.
That euphoric feeling didn't last long.
In the next minute and 41 seconds, Plainfield East blocked an extra point and sandwiched two touchdown passes around a successful onside kick to take a 14-6 halftime lead. The Bengals further silenced a once-raucous West Aurora crowd with a 74-yard touchdown run on the first play of the third quarter en route to a 35-12 nonconference victory.
After a 28-point win over East Aurora in its season opener, West Aurora looked determined to build on that victory through most of Friday's first half. The Blackhawks' defense bottled up Plainfield East's potent offense, limiting East to 15 rushing yards and restricting highly regarded 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Cole Kotopka to just 51 passing yards and an interception. West then scored the game's first touchdown when senior quarterback Quintez Jones found Doyle in the flat for a short pass. Doyle did the rest, juking past a Bengals cornerback before speeding past the rest of East's defense for a 55-yard score with 2:29 remaining in the second quarter.
"Jonathon Doyle made a great play," Eimer said. "He wasn't even the primary option on that play. He did a great job of taking the pass, making a nice move and surging past the defense."
Unfortunately little went right for West Aurora after Doyle's touchdown. Plainfield East snuffed West's extra point, then gained favorable field position when the Blackhawks' ensuing kickoff went out of bounds. Starting at their 35, the Bengals drove 65 yards in 1:24, capped by a screen pass from Kotopka to Jake Mayon that the junior tailback took 16 yards for a touchdown.
After taking a 7-6 lead, East caught the Blackhawks by surprise with an onside kick that the Bengals recovered at West Aurora's 29-yard line with 54 seconds left in the half. On the next play from scrimmage, Kotopka fired a sideline pass to Kenneth Lewis, who broke a tackle and burst untouched for a 29-yard touchdown with: 44 remaining to push East in front 14-6.
"Giving up the onside kick was inexcusable," Eimer said. "We didn't execute well at all to end the first half. And then we didn't show much fight in the second half."
Before West Aurora could catch its breath, the Bengals struck yet again on the opening play of the third quarter to stretch its new-found advantage to 21-6. A mere 23 seconds into the second half, Mayon delivered a punishing stiff arm to a West safety on a sweep, then dashed 74 yards down the sideline for Plainfield's third touchdown in 84 seconds. After a relatively quiet first half aside from a touchdown catch, the 5-7, 185-pound wrestler by winter rumbled for 105 third-quarter yards.
"Mayon is a special kid," East coach Mike Romeli said. "He's short and relatively small, but he's so loaded, just so strong. He's the top squatter on our team. He can squat 475 pounds. He's deceptively quick, too, and due to his strength, when he gets hit, he's hard to tackle."
West Aurora tried getting back in the game, engineering a 10-play, 48-yard drive capped by a 15-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown by Jones that trimmed the deficit to 21-12. But Plainfield blocked West's extra-point attempt, and the Bengals extended their lead to 28-12 on the next drive as Kotopka (186 yards passing, three touchdowns) lofted a 15-yard TD pass to Mozel Hargrays in the corner of the end zone with 1:59 to play in the third quarter.
Kotopka's one-yard touchdown run with 9:17 left in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Bengals, who are 2-0 for the first time in the school's five-year football history and are the first team at East to ever win consecutive games. Romeli credited much of Friday's performance to containing Jones. Plainfield intercepted Jones, West's only returning starter on offense from a year ago, three times and limited the senior to 133 passing yards and 69 yards on the ground on 19 carries.
After what Eimer called "the most disappointing loss in my three years" at West, the Blackhawks must regroup before opening DuPage Valley Conference action on Friday, Sept. 13 hosting Glenbard East, knowing they face a challenging schedule in arguably the state's toughest football conference.
"We have a good group of kids on this team," Eimer said. "But we've got to learn how to deal with success and especially with adversity. Tonight we didn't handle adversity well. The effort and execution have to be better. The guys need to come out and play harder and execute better and do the things the coaches are emphasizing in practices. Then we can be successful."