Westminster Christian rewarded for diligence
Chalk one up for persistence.
Westminster Christian's 27-0 eight-man football victory over Alden-Hebron in Elgin Saturday served as validation for a core group that never gave up on the sport.
The small Elgin private school did not have enough players to field an eight-man team last fall. The season had to be canceled in late August when it became clear participation numbers were too low.
Nevertheless, a core group of seven players persisted, led by now-seniors Jacob Branscom, Peter DeFalco, Caleb Janschek and Tyler Oman.
Former coach Mike Gross and current coach Tim Oman instructed at practices three times a week through October. There were no scrimmages with other teams. There were no practice games.
The program was revived this summer with 13 rostered players, but things didn't go as hoped in the first two games. Westminster Christian was outscored 82-18 combined in losses to the Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland Coop and Rockford Christian Life.
Undeterred, 12 Warriors suited up Saturday against the Giants, who also had 12 available players. It was all Westminster right from the start.
The game was two minutes old when junior middle linebacker Mitch McGrath ripped the ball out of a running back's arms and raced 55-yards for a touchdown.
"Someone wrapped him up and the ball was out," said McGrath, who recovered a second fumble late in the game. "I just stripped it and said 'I've got to score.' I just bolted."
It was the first of 5 turnovers forced by Westminster Christian (1-2). Freshman Bennett Vanagas hauled in 2 interceptions and Oman pounced on a fumble forced by Branscom.
The Warriors grabbed a 14-0 lead on Alden-Hebron (1-1) when junior running back Jessie Schambach got to the perimeter and raced 17 yards to the end zone with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
DeFalco connected with McGrath on a 51-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the second half to make it 20-0. The quarterback called an audible at the line for McGrath to run a fly pattern.
"They took out their corner," DeFalco said. "I just looked around and knew I had to give it to him."
Westminster capped the scoring early in the fourth quarter when a scrambling DeFalco connected with Vanagas on a 7-yard touchdown pass. The blocking of linemen Janschek and junior William Black gave DeFalco time to throw.
"This game was really my offensive line's game," coach Tim Oman said. "Everybody else performed, but if those guys let them through up front, it's over. They didn't. They won this game for us."
The Warriors outgained the Giants 232 total yards to 160. DeFalco, who aspires to play college football, completed 11 of 16 attempts for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns. McGrath was his main target with 7 catches for 101 yards.
The victory was the first for Westminster Christian since its eight-man team won 49-0 against Williams Bay, Wis. on Oct. 7, 2017.
"It's amazing," DeFalco said. "It's a great feeling to go a whole year without playing and know that this was because all of your hard work."