From Dre Thomas's perspective the key to achieving perfection in the meat-grinder portion of Glenbard West's conference football schedule was simple.
Two weeks ago, the Hilltoppers beat Lyons Twp. 35-3 on the road, then last week defeated Hinsdale Central 14-9 in a rain-soaked affair. Friday, Glenbard West relied on Thomas's 129 yards on 25 carries to stop Oak Park-River Forest 24-14.
"I think we talked in practice about how aggressive (those opponents) were, and coach told us to master aggressiveness and play hard and do our jobs as individuals on the field," Thomas said. "I think we did that, and that's why we keep coming away with these wins against these tough teams."
The OPRF win was a big one, because only one thing stands in the way of a West Suburban Silver title for Glenbard West -- Proviso West (2-6, 0-5), the Hitters' Week 9 opponent. Their closest rival, Hinsdale Central, beat Lyons 21-20 on Friday to finish its league schedule at 5-1. The Hilltoppers are 7-1 overall and 5-0 in conference.
So what did Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet learn about his group over the course of those three tough games?
"That we don't quit and they just keep bringing it every game," Hetlet said. "The conference tests you in a lot of different ways. Those are all three different kinds of teams. These guys can make a run if they continue to build."
Glenbard West built an early lead against the Huskies thanks to a pair of Thomas first-quarter touchdowns, The first was a 14-yard run with 5:08 left, and when OPRF fumbled away the ball on its ensuing possession, Thomas added a 9-yard run at 2:53.
"He's the heart and soul of what we do," Hetlet said of Thomas. "He moves the ball for us. He gets so many hard yards. He's the best hard-yard running back we've had. He pounds it and pounds it and pounds it."
Early in the second quarter, senior back Ryan Diver added a 17-yard touchdown run, and with Logan Ryan's third point-after kick, things looked good for the Hilltoppers at 21-0.
But the Huskies proved their mettle through the passing abilities of sophomore quarterback Toby Kunkel, who threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior Fred Brandstrader with less than a minute to go in the first half. Then he hit Trevon Brown on a 14-yarder late in the third. Suddenly, Glenbard West's lead was cut to 21-14.
But Hilltoppers senior quarterback Alex Hollensbe orchestrated a 9-play drive that resulted in a 32-yard Ryan field goal with 8:30 left in the game that set the final score.
The Huskies went three-and-out on its next possession, and then Hetlet turned to Thomas, who rushed the ball 9 times in the game's final drive, which ended on the OPRF 1-yard line.
"Our plan was to try to drive the ball down and chew up as much clock as we could," Hollensbe said of that final drive, which kept the ball out of the Huskies' hands. "We just got the plays done there."