Assaad leads York to thrilling win over Willowbrook
York senior quarterback Max Assaad welcomed a shift in the offensive game plan this week.
After the Dukes were shut out in consecutive games against Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central, Assaad said he dived into preparation for Friday's home game against Willowbrook.
Assaad said he played just six snaps in last week's loss to Hinsdale Central.
"Last week was tough because I came into the game and just made a bad decision, with their defense picking it off," he said. "But this week, I made it my most focused week of practice. I had to be sharp. I was watching film every night, twice as much as I normally do.
"Last week it was a run game more dominated. With Mike Bojesen, he's a terrific runner and with the two running threats in the backfield with him and Patrick Kastner, it gave us more of a chance for success."
Assaad showed off a live arm and pinpoint passing Friday night, throwing for 226 yards and a touchdown to lift the Dukes to an emotional 25-23 victory over the previously unbeaten Warriors in a West Suburban Conference crossover game in Elmhurst.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Assaad started slow, with just 44 yards passing in his first 12 attempts before heating up to spark the Dukes (2-2) to a thrilling comeback victory. He completed seven passes for at least 10 yards, with senior wide receiver Luke Malaga catching 15 passes for 118 yards. The Dukes' offensive line protected Assaad by not allowing a sack, while Kastner had 29 carries for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Sami Ayash caught five passes for 86 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown.
"It was great to win and a lot of fun," Assaad said. "There's no better feeling than seeing the coaches calling for passes. We were getting more and more excited. The offensive line blocked hard every play. It was great to see the team's hard work pay off."
Malaga was at the forefront of nearly every drive for the Dukes. The Dukes moved him around on the line of scrimmage, and many times Assaad completed passes to Malaga on consecutive plays.
"It was bounce-back week for Max," Malaga said. "I'm so proud of him. We knew we had to be aggressive and Max did everything we asked. We really opened it up tonight, and they tried to give me the ball. The field just looked wide open. We felt we could throw on these guys.
"The last two weeks, going up against big schools like Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central, it's tough to pass and we had to ground and pound. But tonight, we knew we had to tap into our passing game, and it worked out. This is a great team win, and great momentum for us."
The Warriors (3-1) hurt themselves with a few costly miscues. They lost a fumble in the first quarter, trailed by eight points to start the fourth quarter, came up short on a two-point conversion that would've tied the game at 25-25 and lost four yards on a pivotal red-zone play in the final minute.
Despite all those mistakes, Willowbrook star running back Josh Brown nearly saved the day by rushing for a game-high 295 yards and three touchdowns. Trailing 25-23 with 5:33 left, the Warriors marched down the field, but fell victim to a bad snap. Two plays later, the Warriors missed a potential-winning field goal with 31 seconds left. York senior defensive back Jalon Jones had a game-saving tackle on the 11th play of Willowbrook's final drive, chasing down Brown to stop a potential 48-yard touchdown run.
"That wasn't our intent to go down and kick the field, but when we snapped the ball to the ground and lost those four or five yards (hurt us)," Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth said.