Pope, Glenbard West getting healthy at right time
Having missed multiple games this season, Joey Pope is getting healthy at just the right time.
And that spells trouble for Glenbard West's playoff opponents.
The two-way standout scored touchdowns on each side of the ball Saturday, helping the Hilltoppers to a 45-15 road victory over Hinsdale Central in the regular season finale.
Pope found the end zone on a 76-yard run for Glenbard West (8-1, 5-1 West Suburban Silver), finishing with 118 yards on seven carries, and later returned an interception 80 yards for a score.
"It's nice to be finally healthy," said Pope, who first missed time after an appendectomy before suffering an ankle injury, "especially at the end of the season which is most important. I've been working hard to get back on the field and it feels good to contribute in a win over Hinsdale Central.
"When I was a sophomore, they beat us here (at Hinsdale Central). And then they beat us last year on our home field. So we were looking forward to this game. To come out here, to play as a team and to get the win is a great feeling."
Pope was far from the only offensive star as the Hilltoppers rushed for over 300 yards behind an offensive line of Jack Baer, Luke Gadomski, Jack Anderson, Brady Cavan and Chris Terek.
Julius Ellens scored a pair of touchdowns to go along with 98 yards rushing on 12 attempts. Connor McLaughlin and Jack Oberhofer also each found the end zone and gained 62 and 35 yards respectively.
"It's so nice to have a couple other backs who can run," Pope said. "When I was out, Julius stepped up and played amazing. Jack pounds the ball inside, Connor has also been amazing and Julius just runs the ball different; that speaks for itself."
Not to be outdone, the Hilltoppers defense flexed their muscles, forcing five Red Devils turnovers. In addition to Pope's pick-six, Eli Limouris had a pair of fumble recoveries, Michael Short pounced on a fumble and Mason Ellens had an interception. Brandon Kud and Ben Cesario added sacks.
"[Glenbard West] coach [Chad] Hetlet had a great scheme," said Limouris who also had a pass break-up. "We all fly to the ball. We've grown over the year as a unit, as a family. We try to get better each week as a team and individually.
"Now it's all about the second season. That's what we work toward during the offseason. Getting better ever game is key."
Marcello Diomede kicked a 26-yard field goal for Glenbard West, which will be making its 15th consecutive trip to the playoffs under Hetlet. The Hilltoppers have also now won at least eight games for a 14th straight season.
"That's super cool," Hetlet said. "I'm just blessed. Right place, right time -- I said that years ago. Most of our varsity staff is still intact and our freshmen and sophomore coaches are awesome. And the kids carry on the tradition which isn't easy."
Glenbard West finished just four points short -- a 17-13 loss to York -- of an undefeated regular season.
"We feel good (going into the playoffs)," Hetlet said. "I think we can play with anybody.
"Our kids played hard today. Hinsdale Central is still good defensively. They still have a lot of talent. They have a bunch of injuries and I feel bad for them going out that way but that's an outstanding program. That was a great fight in the first half. I have a lot of respect for that program."
Indeed, Hinsdale Central (4-5, 2-4) played short-handed for much of the fall and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010. The Red Devils had reached the playoffs in 19 of the past 20 campaigns (not including the 2020 COVID spring season).
"That's what I told them," Hinsdale Central coach Brian Griffin said. "They had some opportunities to quit along the way but there was no quit in this team. It's a small group of seniors and they chose to fight.
"They could have packed it in but they didn't and I'm so proud of them. This is not how we wanted to go out but that's a great team over there. These seniors have had some special times. They are willing to do anything for each other and for the team and you don't always find that in kids these days."
Freshman quarterback Riley Contreras found Reece Kolke for an 8-yard TD late in the second quarter which left the score 17-7 at halftime. Billy Cernugel added a 4-yard touchdown in the waning moments and totaled 90 yards on 13 rushes.
Kevin Connors had an interception and Farooq Ilumoka recovered a fumble.