Downers Grove North throws change-up at Willowbrook
With a sudden change in direction, Downers Grove North's Ethan Thulin also altered the direction of Friday's game against Willowbrook.
For the first 15-plus minutes, the Trojans hurt themselves with a host of mistakes.
But then, when Thulin broke free on a punt return, turning his body away from the sidelines with a twist toward the vast open space on his right, the complexion of the West Suburban Conference crossover game also shifted toward a different path.
Thulin sparked a 17-point second-quarter, racing 78 yards for a punt return touchdown to power Downers Grove North to a 27-14 victory over Willowbrook in Downers Grove.
"When I cut back, I knew I was either losing 10 yards or going to the house," Thulin said of his TD. "We had a couple of pancake blocks that helped me. I was too free on that. It was special. We needed the six (points). We came out and started slow and picked it up at the end."
The Trojans (2-0) find themselves in new territory -- at least in recent years. The undefeated start builds momentum heading into next week's cross-town showdown at Downers Grove South.
At first the Trojans looked headed toward their first loss of the season. Willowbrook senior wide receiver Vince Vassolo hauled in an 84-yard touchdown reception on the first play from scrimmage. Vassolo was wide open on the play-action pass, racing untouched to give the Warriors (0-2) a 7-0 lead just 19 seconds into the game. Vassolo caught five passes for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"I think most teams focus against us is to take our running game away, so we came out throwing to go away from what we normally do to get things going," Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth said. "That worked out, but not a ton (else did) after that."
The Trojans fell deeper into an early hole, when quarterback Sam Reichert tossed an interception on his pass of the game. The Warriors tacked on another touchdown on Vassolo's 24-yard reception early in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead.
After the first of two field goals by the Trojans' cut the deficit to 14-3, the Warriors couldn't sustain any drives nor produce big plays. Meanwhile, Reichert showed some composure by settling into the offense, keeping the Warriors at bay with his passing to go with the running of sophomore Noah Battle.
Reichert was steady in the pocket, completing 9 of 15 passes for 87 yards and an interception. He added a key 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, diving just inside the pylon to cut the gap to 14-10.
"We had a rough start, but the offense really had to bounce back and get everyone together and pick up the defense," Reichert said. "That pick was a mental error. I had just reflect, get loose and calm and a couple of my teammates picked me up. This feels great to be 2-0. The O-line played great."
Battle flashed his potential with several strong runs and some tough running, finishing with 19 carries for 73 yards. He rushed for 39 yards on Downers Grove North's first drive.
Junior Joe Chiarelli added an insurance touchdown with a 4-yard score midway through the third.
"I knew I had to put my shoulder down and go right through," Chiarelli said. "I knew I had to get them one in. It feels awesome and means a lot to be 2-0. Downers Grove North hasn't had a team like this in a while. We want to keep on winning."
Aside from the first play, the Trojans' defense bottled up the Warriors' offense, limiting them to 105 yards rushing. Senior Josh Brown, who rushed for 1,750 yards and 23 touchdowns in six spring games, carried the ball 17 times for 71 yards.
"Big plays hurt us, from turnovers to the punt return (TD)," Hildreth said.