When Glenbard West lost two straight midseason football games, skeptics questioned the Hilltoppers' ability to defend their Class 7A title.
The skeptics were right, but for all the wrong reasons.
Competing in the Class 8A bracket this postseason, Glenbard West topped previously unbeaten Homewood-Flossmoor 28-21 in Saturday's second-round action at Glen Ellyn's Duchon Field.
The No. 20 Hilltoppers (9-2) advance to the quarterfinals to play the winner of Saturday night's game between No. 5. Oswego and No. 12 Edwardsville.
Forget 7A. The way they looked Saturday, the Hilltoppers appear capable of winning the program's first 8A title.
"An 8A championship is something we've never done before," said Glenbard West running back Ryan Diver, who had 31 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown. "It's a new challenge and we've fully stepped up to it. We're here to play."
With the score tied 7-7 at the half, Glenbard West seized the lead for good against No. 4 Homewood-Flossmoor (10-1) when sophomore running back Tyquan Cox returned the opening kick of the second half 86 yards for a touchdown.
Dre Thomas added a 19-yard third-quarter touchdown run to boost the advantage to 21-7, a margin that went to 14 again midway through the fourth quarter when Diver added a 7-yard scoring run.
Even though Glenbard West was outgained 341-204 in total yardage, turnovers and the Cox kick return were game-changers. Jack Campanella snared 2 interceptions, including one in the red zone at the end of the first half. Nolan Shaw, who entered the game for injured cornerback Justice Bradley, grabbed a third interception.
"We talked all week about how Homewood-Flossmoor would be a big program win," Campanella said. "They were 10-0, we were 8-2 and maybe the underdogs in this game. We came in and just stepped up."
Vikings quarterback Bryant Wright, who rushed for 70 yards and threw for 168, accounted for all three of his team's touchdowns. He scored twice on runs inside the 10 and threw a 28-yard scoring pass to Dylan Duplessis in the game's final 20 seconds.
Glenbard West scored on its lone first-quarter possession, a 13-play drive, when Cole Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Mackey.
"I can't say enough about how our kids played today," said Hilltoppers coach Chad Hetlet. "We're playing our best football of the season right now, and that's what you want to do."
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