Oswego beats West Aurora, remains perfect in Southwest Prairie West
Mark Melton was under no illusions Friday night.
The Oswego running back would have to shoulder an extra burden.
"Coming into the week, both of our quarterbacks are down," Melton, the offensive star of the Panthers' 26-7 victory over West Aurora in Southwest Prairie West football action, said. "We knew we were going to run the ball the whole game."
Melton rushed 28 punishing times for 171 yards as the Panthers possessed the ball for almost 33 minutes of the game.
The Panthers were without the services of quarterbacks Cruz Ibarra and Julian Toma as coach Brian Cooney was forced to start Deakon Tonielli, a junior wideout, in their place.
Adjustments for the Panthers' offensive side of the ball were inescapable but also fruitful as Oswego (5-2, 3-0) won its fifth straight game to remain unbeaten in the division.
"We couldn't do as many flash-plays as we have in our playbook," Melton said.
The Oswego offensive line -- tackles Max Castle and Vince Anderson, guards Achilles Obert and Nolan Muellner and center Lucas Alegria -- were the decisive unit in the game.
"Our goal was to run the ball, keep the rock pounding, move our feet and keep the ball moving," Melton said. "(Week 1 and 2 (nonconference losses to Neuqua Valley and Batavia) has prepared us."
Cam Grays was the leader of the Panthers' defensive unit, which did not allow a point.
Grays would have both a fumble recovery and interception with monumental consequences.
It was a West Aurora turnover, however, that briefly swung the momentum to start the second half.
The Blackhawks' defensive anchor, Matt Tarr, who led both teams with 12 tackles, intercepted a pitch and raced 85 yards to give West Aurora a 7-3 lead on the first possession of third quarter.
"The past three teams we have played have run that play," said Tarr. "We practiced against it all week. I knew it was going to be a pitch. I saw and took it. It came firsthand to me."
But, operating in plus territory after a sizable Melton kickoff return, Oswego took the lead for good on a short TD plunge from Jacob Sergen.
West Aurora (3-4, 0-3) was looking for a quick response, only to have Grays recover a fumble.
The Blackhawks never seriously threatened again until the waning seconds of the game as Grays and Braedon Hellinger had interceptions on the following two West Aurora plays from scrimmage.
"We had to make up because we didn't have the numbers offensively," Grays said. "I knew somebody had to make a play to get us off the field. It was a close game."
Melton and Tyler Weddington closed had touchdown runs to put the game away; the Panthers' place-kicker, Austin King, augmented his 37-field goal to end the first half with a conversion from 35 yards out in the fourth quarter to help frame the final score.
"Both coaches were trying to play a time-of-possession game," West Aurora coach Nate Eimer said. "You need to put things in perspective. Less than seven months ago, that team beat us 46-0. I thought our kids went toe-to-toe with the for almost the entire game."
Gino Martino found Andrew Kolich eight times for 86 yards as part of his 137-yard night.
Gavin Nolan also had a first-quarter pick for the Blackhawks.