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After losing four straight games to end last season, no football team anticipated the start of a new campaign more than Benet.
The Redwings showed it Friday night.
Overcoming a fierce Downers Grove South comeback -- not to mention a lengthy first-half lightning delay -- Benet held on for a 26-16 opening victory at Lisle's Benedictine University.
"Losing four games straight was brutal for us, it really took a lot out of us," said Redwings defensive back Mac Cooney. "Especially the seniors because they really worked for it. They're what pushed us to be the football players we are today. To finally get it back, and I saw some alums on the sideline, it was great to show them we're carrying on their legacy."
Trailing 19-0 at halftime, Downers South scored 16 unanswered points in the third quarter behind a Ryan Taylor rushing touchdown, Eric Denby's scooped fumble return for a score and Riley Heavey's 36-yard field goal.
Denby snared 2 interceptions in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, but Benet's defense responded by standing tall both times. Redwings running back Brad Sznajder, who had 26 carries for 161 yards, gave his team much-needed breathing room with a 34-yard touchdown run to seal the win with 3:53 left.
"We knew we were going to have to play well both sides of the ball," Sznajder said. "The first game you don't really know what to expect, but we wanted to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides, and I think we did a pretty good job with that."
Downers South had two more possessions but, again, the Redwings' inexperienced defense came through with huge plays. First came Jack Brown's interception, then Cooney's second pick of the game.
"We needed one more drive, but we couldn't get it," said Mustangs coach Mark Molinari. "I think we're going to be fine down the line, it's just disappointing."
Benet stormed to a 19-0 lead in a first half interrupted by a lightning delay with 10:50 left in the second quarter. Sznajder scored on a pair of 7-yard runs, sandwiching a pair of Matt Tromp field goals.
The Mustangs struggled on offense for much of the first half, but converted running back Jacob Baker finished with 61 hard-fought yards on 23 carries. Benet sophomore quarterback Jack Sznajder completed 9 of 18 passes for 82 yards and 2 interceptions in his first varsity start.
"It was an excellent way to get out of the blocks and get a win," said Benet coach Pat New. "Especially against an excellent program like that."
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