Wheaton North gets its running game in gear vs. Metea Valley
Starting senior guard J'Kolbi Grant and the Wheaton North football team's offense maintained composure Friday -- even after Metea Valley scored the game's first two touchdowns on two possessions.
"We were just telling the O-line to keep pounding, just keep moving the ball," Grant said. "For (standout running back Sam Singleton), just open up holes for him and let him score. That was it."
On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing possession, Singleton pulled off an electrifying 72-yard touchdown run. Singleton scored two of the Falcons' next three TDs as they scored all of the remaining points in a 36-14 DuPage Valley Conference victory in Wheaton.
"I knew after that (72-yarder) that it brought up the team and we knew we could win that game," said Singleton, who rushed for 195 of the Falcons' 322 total yards. "It's all fun and everything, but we've just got to keep going week by week. We've just got to keep grinding. We can do it this year."
What "it" is would be for the Falcons (3-1, 2-1) is reaching the playoffs after three consecutive 4-5 seasons. With the Mustangs (0-4, 0-4) winning last year's meeting 36-7, Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski emphasized getting off to a good start.
Instead, Metea's Adam Nicodemus made an interception at the Falcons' 35-yard line on the game's first series and Gio Martinez eventually scored from the 11 after Nicodemus caught a third-down pass at the 14 deflected by teammate Jaiden Jackson.
Then the Mustangs got the ball at the 17 after a high punt snap and quarterback Garrett Despot sneaked in from the 1.
"They capitalized on our mistakes," Wardynski said. "Sam busted a run for us and broke the ice and we were able to get things going from there."
After Singleton's long TD run, the Falcons' Drake Dickinson downed Trenton Hegranes' punt to pin the Mustangs at the 2. Metea's eventual punt snap went out of the end zone for a safety.
The Falcons scored again with five plays -- all rushes by Singleton for 32 yards with an additional personal foul penalty. Antowon Tolbert had his first of two rushing TDs in the game on the next series after three consecutive double-digit completions by quarterback Rhett Netzer.
"Credit to them to not panicking, down 14-0 and just staying with what they do," Metea coach Ben Kleinhaus said. "We wanted to limit big plays and big runs but that (72-yard TD) certainly got momentum shifted back on their side. That was certainly a huge play."
Grant is the only returning starter on a line with guard Richard Ficociello, tackles Sam Odell and Logan Meyer and rotating centers John Willeford and Lucas Royer.
Singleton, who also credited fullback Michael Jarosz, now has 592 rushing yards with 9 TDs. He had 878 yards and 13 TDs in 2016.
"If the guys up front keep blocking, I'll just keep running," Singleton said.
"(That 72-yarder) was huge," Wardynski added. "I think Sam's run kind of gave us a little energy, a little life. Then (the defense) realized maybe the offense is going to come through so it's time to step up and try to get some stops."
Metea left offensive tackle and Penn State recruit Bryce Effner made his season debut, but guard Tim Paulson was lost for the second half to a knee injury.
The Mustangs' first four opponents are now a combined 14-2.
"I thought our kids played their tails off. You can't question how hard they played and the effort they gave and the passion they played with for each other," Kleinhaus said. "We got our run game going at times and early did some good things on defense and just got worn down."