Wheaton North follows line to victory at Downers Grove South
At some point in the future, quarterback Mark Forcucci and running back Brayton Maske will become leaders for Wheaton North.
But on Friday night they were followers.
The two sophomores relied on offensive linemen Aidan Olson, Greg Antonik, Grayson Therron, Walker Rickord and Pedro Castanon for protection in the running and passing game and the big boys came through.
Forcucci tossed a pair of short touchdown passes and Maske rushed for 111 yards on 22 carries as the visiting Falcons edged Downers Grove South 13-12.
"It was super fun," Maske said of his varsity debut. "I'm pretty good friends with Mark and I'm pretty good friends with Kaiden (Libby) and Jackson (Moore), the other sophomores.
"But the offensive line, we have four returning starters from last year. They do a very good job."
With four sophomores seeing action at the skill positions, the linemen's performance was key. After Ethan Monaco scored on a 1-yard run to give Downers South a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, Forcucci threw an 8-yard TD pass to Libby in the second quarter and a 7-yard scoring strike to Troy Hegranes in the third quarter to give the Falcons a 13-6 cushion.
"We told the line kids tonight that we haven't had four returning starters on the line since I've been the head coach, so we were going to go where they go tonight," Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. "We said that they were going to have to lead us and they did a really nice job.
"Downers South had a good defense. I thought our kids up front opened some holes and the young kids found some seams and made some plays. It was good."
But it wasn't without some nail-biting moments. The Falcons had a chance to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter, but Forcucci was intercepted on a 3rd-and-22 play from the Downers South 37.
Senior defensive back Kyle Fogt returned the pick 17 yards to his own 44. Six plays later Jayden Lambert took a swing pass from Cole Warehime 28 yards for a touchdown to pull the Mustangs within 13-12 with 1:32 remaining.
"There was a lot of pressure," Forcucci said. "On that play it was third down and rather than throwing a risky throw I should have thrown it up to the deeper route and if it was an interception on a deeper ball then it would have been like a punt."
Downers South opted to go for a 2-point conversion and Warehime's pass was caught in the end zone by Eli Reed. But the Mustangs were whistled for pass interference and the resulting 42-yard extra-point try was wide left.
"Our kids battled," Downers South coach Mark Molinari said. "We started seven juniors, two sophomores and two seniors, so that's a lot of youth.
"We had a lot of penalties tonight that put us behind the chains, and that was the difference in the game."