It was Throwback Friday at Joliet Catholic Academy as the Hilltoppers and Wheaton North combined for 83 runs in 104 offensive snaps, quite eye-opening numbers in this era of wide-open passing offenses.
It was the visiting Falcons who got the better of this retro battle in the trenches. They ran for 272 yards on the way to a 27-7 nonconference victory.
"We were talking about the run all week, just studying film and we did what we could do," said Wheaton North center John Willeford. "If we control the clock, control the ball, we know it's a 'W.'"
The task was made more difficult for Willeford and interior linemates Sam Odell, De'Quan Ramsey, J'Kolbi Grant and Logan Meyer by the fact that three of the Hilltoppers' defensive lineman were listed as weighing at least 285 pounds. That, however, didn't intimidate the Falcons' hogs.
"Those big boys, they're hard to move," Willeford said, "but we saw from watching film that they got tired pretty quick, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall."
Wheaton North (2-0) began taking chunks out of the Hilltoppers' run defense from the get-go. Running back Sam Singleton had 15 carries and 96 yards in the first quarter, and his 1-yard run gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead with two minutes left in the opening period.
Antowon Tolbert took the running reins in the second quarter, with his 29-yard sweep to pay dirt making it 13-0. Singleton closed the half with a 4-yard run with 44 seconds left to cap a 31-yard drive that was set up by Bo Neidballa's interception.
The Hilltoppers (1-1) got a spark early in the third quarter when they stopped North on a fourth-and-1 to set up a 69-yard scoring drive with all of the yards, naturally, coming on the ground. Keenan Hailey was the highlighter with 6 carries for 45 yards, including the 1-yard plunge that made it 20-7.
Any Hilltoppers momentum was quickly quelled, however, as the Falcons responded with an 11-play, 74-yard scoring drive, courtesy of nine runs, two passes for 16 total yards from Rhett Netzer to Christian Halstead and a third-down pass interference penalty against the Hiltoppers before Netzer did the honors from 17 yards out.
While the Falcons dominated on the ground, the usually ultra-potent Hilltoppers running attack was limited to 144 yards on 41 carries, with only five gains of 10 or more yards, and when quarterback Aidan Tyrell did drop back to pass, the Falcons sacked him five times.
"We just talked about being gap sound," said Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski. "They run their stuff really well, but I'm proud of our defense and how we limited their big plays."