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Coming off a rare playoff absence, Wheaton Warrenville South's football team entered the season as a bit of an unknown.
It's taken only three games for the Tigers to take its familiar place in state championship conversations.
WW South stayed unbeaten against a brutal early schedule by beating Wheaton North 17-13 in Friday's cross-town DuPage Valley Conference game at Grange Field.
The Tigers (3-0, 1-0) remained true to the formula that helped beat two previous state-ranked opponents: Glenbard West and Maine South. Beating a third straight ranked opponent -- a rival, no less -- meant plenty of the ground game and leaning on a super athletic, stinging defense.
"You've got to want it, you know?" said Tigers defensive back Tommy Cetina. "We come out every game with a lot of intensity."
Outgaining Wheaton North 184-84 in total first-half yardage, WW South took a 10-0 lead to halftime. The Tigers marched downfield late in the first quarter with running back Isaiah Campos and quarterback Ryan Graham, whose 22-yard pass to tight end Connor Ostrander put WW South in the red zone.
Four plays later Campos, who carried the ball 26 times for 138 yards, scored on a 6-yard run. At the start of the second quarter, following a Joe Kazar interception of Wheaton North quarterback Clayton Thorson, Evan Jakubowski booted a 26-yard field goal.
"Everyone's a lot more confident," said Campos, referring to the difference between last year and this year. "Practice is more intense, and everyone's just ready to play and ready to win."
After forcing a three-and-out to start the second half, WW South used six run plays and a pass to move 62 yards. Graham, who rushed for 80 yards and passed for 60, capped the drive with a 5-yard scoring run to boost the lead to 17-0.
"We had a pretty good script," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch.
The Falcons finally got their offense going in the fourth quarter and scored on their final two possessions. Thorson, who completed 18 of 36 passes for 210 yards, reached the end zone on a 20-yard run and ended the game with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Falcons wound up outgaining WW South 323-313 in total yardage but the fourth-quarter comeback came too late. The Tigers' 253 rushing yards helped them dictate the pace and limit Wheaton North's opportunities.
"I was proud of the way we bounced back in the fourth quarter," said Falcons coach Joe Wardynski. "I'm going to try and focus on that with these guys and get them to build on what we did in the fourth quarter."
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