Willowbrook made a lot of big plays Friday night, and thanks to Hinsdale South wideout Destin Talbert, the Warriors needed every last one of them.
In a battle of 3-1 teams sitting atop the West Suburban Gold at 2-0, visiting Willowbrook stormed ahead to a big lead, got another monster game from running back Jack Jessen, and Scott Tumilty's fifth interception of the year in the fourth quarter proved to be a huge play.
But even so, the Warriors had to feel a little relief walking away with a 38-33 victory after Hinsdale South's Talbert caught 5 touchdown passes and finished with 185 yards on 9 catches.
Talbert's fourth score of the night -- a 57-yard pass from Justin Kolzow -- pulled the Hornets to within 31-27 after three quarters. But Tumilty's interception midway through the fourth quarter preserved the lead, and Jessen followed with a 27-yard touchdown run that made it a 38-27 game. That margin meant Talbert's fifth touchdown, on the final play of the game, couldn't stop Willowbrook from moving to 3-0 in the conference.
"That was an interesting game today," said Jessen, who finished with 41 carries for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "All I could think about (on the final score) was getting in the end zone and keep getting my team up and sealing the day."
Warriors quarterback John Taylor passed for 176 yards and a pair of scores and the team rushed for almost 300 yards but still needed a big turnover to ensure Talbert and the Hornets didn't complete the big comeback.
"I read it good and got on top of the ball and picked it off," said Tumilty, whose father, Scott, was a standout at Naperville Central. "I couldn't let my team down. I had to grab it. I couldn't let him take the ball."
Despite coming up short Talbert and his teammates took away plenty of positives.
"It was a tough fought game," he said. "I'm glad we were able to come back and make it a fight. We know our worth and we know our potential. All we need to do is make sure we don't put ourselves in that position again so we can finish off the season with wins."
Hornets coach Mike Barry attributed homecoming distractions to his team's slow start. But he had no problem with his team's fight on Friday nor with his star receiver's play.
"He's electric. He's a good player for us," Barry said of Talbert. "This is just one of those games where we ran out of time. We started out in the hole three scores and we were able to fight our way back. But it just wasn't enough and the clock said zero before we could get it all done."
The game could not have started any better for Willowbrook. The Warriors jumped ahead 21-0 less than seven minutes into play. On the second play from scrimmage, Taylor faked a handoff to Jessen and raced 62 yards down the right sideline.
Willowbrook forced a punt on the Hornets' first possession and quickly went 80 yards down field with Jessen's 6-yard score capping the drive for a 14-0 lead. Taylor's 37-yard pass to Sikander Zafar started the drive off in fine fashion.
A blocked punt then gave the Warriors the ball again and Taylor's 11-yard catch on a quick slant pass made the score 21-0 with 5:07 left in the opening quarter.
To Hinsdale South's credit the Hornets answered quickly and frequently. On the very next play Talbert took a bubble screen from Justin Kolzow and went 62 yards for a score, the first of three touchdowns by the talented senior in the first half.
After the hosts blocked a punt of their own, Talbert scored on a 19-yard pass from Kolzow and it was 21-14 after one quarter. The Warriors added a BettyAnn Garrett field in the second quarter before Dalbert's 15-yard touchdown catch brought the Hornets to within 24-20 at the half.