That elusive first football victory finally arrived Friday night for Wheaton Warrenville South, and it felt even better with a large homecoming crowd and several former state champions looking on.
The Tigers used big plays on offense, a dominating ground game in the second half and an inspired defensive effort to hold off Waubonsie Valley 39-32 Friday night in Wheaton.
"It feels great. We've been struggling to get that 'W' all season and it feels great to put it all together," said WW South quarterback Matt Dohse, who threw a touchdown and ran for another as his team improved to 1-5. "We worked on all three cylinders: offense, defense and special teams and we finally got a 'W' on the scoreboard."
There were big plays on both sides and big numbers put up by running backs on both sides, but the biggest factor was second-half turnovers. A pair of interceptions and a lost fumble by the Warriors helped the home team convert a 21-20 halftime deficit into its first win.
"Defense came through with a couple stops there and a couple turnovers, which we haven't seen all year," Tigers coach Ron Muhitch said. "Those plays haven't been in our script. That part was great to see. For us to beat a quality team like that, and we're 0-5, that's a big win for these kids. We came very close last week (a double-overtime loss to Naperville Central) and now they got it done. I'm very proud of them."
Waubonsie Valley, which dropped to 3-3, plays in the Indianapolis area next week and then takes on Naperville North and Wheaton North. They'll need to win at least two of those games to make the playoffs. It will help if they get another big effort like the one turned in by Nate Ashford, who ran 24 times for 180 yards and three scores. For the Tigers, meanwhile, Ryan Young ran gained 105 yards in the second half to finish with 131.
Waubonsie Valley also will need to take better care of the football. Interceptions by Parker Robinson and Danny Schricker and a fumble recovery by Andrew Leonard led to a pair of Brian Haw field goals and Young's spinning 13-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers up 39-29 with 10:11 left to play.
"For us it was turnovers in the second half," Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy said. "We gave them the ball three times. The defense tried hard and we kept them to two field goals, but we need to win the turnover battle and we didn't. I thought our offense when we didn't turn the ball over executed pretty darn good."
Robinson had an interception and also caused the fumble that Leonard returned to the Warriors' 11-yard line and set up a Haw field goal. He was all smiles after the defense helped bring home the victory.
"Turnovers the whole season has been an emphasis, but we haven't really gotten many this season," the junior defensive back said. "This week in practice we really worked hard. We know turnovers are a momentum change so we really wanted to get some tonight and we were able to do it."
Dohse, who connected with Cam Moore on an 80-yard touchdown pass in the first half, was thrilled to win in front of some former Tigers in particular.
"It felt even better knowing we had some state champ classes back to watch," he said. "So it felt that much sweeter."