Wheaton Academy faced its share of adversity on Friday night, from 8 first-half penalties to a spirited effort from host Elmwood Park.
But thanks to the junior offensive duo of Ben Thorson and Christian Carstens, the Warriors overcame a 10-point second half deficit to defeat the Tigers 21-17 in the Metro Suburban Conference crossover matchup.
"I'm proud of our guys," Wheaton Academy coach Brad Thornton said. "We persevered through adversity. I told the guys, it's hard to win a football game, especially on the road in a tough environment against a physical team like Elmwood Park."
Elmwood Park (2-2) led 3-0 at halftime and then added to that advantage with an 83-yard touchdown drive that took six minutes in the third quarter.
But Wheaton Academy (3-1) answered right back, getting on the scoreboard with a 15-yard strike from Thorson to Miles VanderKlok. After a defensive stop, Thorson then put his team up for good with a 32-yard TD run early in the fourth.
"Our theme for the year is fight, forget, finish," said Thorson, who completed 13 of 18 passes for 182 yards while running for 61 more. "At halftime our coaches told us to forget the first half. Some calls weren't going our way and we weren't playing well. We talked about, it doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish and we finished well. I'm real proud of our O-line, they stepped up and our receivers made a lot of plays."
Carstens gave the Warriors some breathing room with a 12-yard scamper to the end zone with less than two minutes remaining. The running back finished with 103 yards on 16 carries.
"Carstens was unbelievable," Thorson said. "He's one of the hardest workers on the team and it's awesome to see his hard work pay off."
The Tigers added a late score before the visitors recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Next up for Wheaton Academy, which got interceptions from VanderKlok and Noah Jones and sacks from Kent Harmon and Christian Pares, is a stiff matchup against Riverside-Brookfield in the opener of league play.
"We had a lot of guys who played up last year as sophomores," Thornton said, "but we are still relatively young. We are going into the conference part of our schedule, so being in a dogfight and pulling out a close game will only help us."