Latka, Libertyville knock off Mundelein

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/19/2021 10:25 PM

On the first day of spring football, which happened to fall on the last day of winter, Libertyville junior running back/linebacker Tommy Latka started his season with a bobble on a kickoff return.

From there?


Nothing but blue skies -- under actual blue skies -- as the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder picked up his brief mishap near the goal line, ran the ball to the Libertyville 49-yard line, recovered two fumbles, rushed for a 1-yard touchdown, recorded a sack and caught a 17-yard pass in the Wildcats' 39-21 defeat of visiting Mundelein on a gorgeous Friday evening.

One question: When's the Tommy Latka Bobblehead Day?

"He's just an ... athlete," Wildcats coach Mike Jones gushed after the North Suburban Conference contest. "Off the field he's mild-mannered. On it? He's competitive, gets after it."

Latka's numbers and heroics meant little to him. All that mattered was that football was back, finally, after a hibernation that must have felt like a decade-long one to all.

"I got up this morning and thought, 'I get to play football with my boys again,' " Latka said.

Libertyville (1-0) scored a TD on its first two possessions. Senior quarterback Blake Ellingson (12-of-16, 224 yards, 3 TDs) completed a 37-yard scoring toss to senior Connor Dickson, and -- following Latka's first fumble recovery -- spiraled a 30-yard TD pass to senior running back Matt Brenner (6 receptions, 88 yards). Latka's 1-yard TD run put the hosts up 20-0 with 3:52 left in the first half.

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"Letting them play -- that's why I'm happy now," Jones said. "This felt like winning a state championship. And we get to play five more games.

"In January I never thought we'd get to this point."

Mundelein (0-1) never believed it was out of it Friday. The Mustangs rushed for an impressive 275 yards, paced by senior running backs Shawn Patrick (12 carries, 90 yards), Joseph Foreman (8-75) and Rudy Osornio (12-57). Junior quarterback Brock Paluch (4-of-7, 97 yards) added 34 yards on 5 totes.

"I have four monsters in the backfield," Mustangs coach Vince DeFranceso said. "I'm proud of our running backs. They ran with a ton of power."

Libertyville's Dickson raced to Mundelein's 3-yard line on a 66-yard punt return after the Mustangs' first possession in the second half. Brenner (2 rushing TDs) scored on the ensuing handoff, expanding the advantage to 26-7.

Wildcats junior Sam Pinsel stood out emphatically on defense, dropping running backs for a pair of 3-yard losses in the first half and sacking Paluch 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the second half. A former offensive lineman and linebacker, the 6-1, 215-pound defensive lineman also chased a Mustang back out of bounds on a fourth-and-goal play in the second minute of the second quarter.

Other scores in the opener included Ellingson's 30-yard TD pass to junior wideout Nolan Wiley (2 catches, 42 yards), Foreman's 23-yard TD run and Mundelein senior running back Cole Kirby's 1-yard burst to cap the scoring.

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