This time Wheaton Warrenville South finishes on top against Wheaton North
Sean Norris allows his players 24 hours to either celebrate a win or hurt from a loss.
After an overtime loss last week Wheaton Warrenville South needed little to no motivation with its rival Wheaton North coming into Red Grange Field on Friday night.
The Tigers recovered a fumble on the game's first play from scrimmage as part of four forced turnovers and held off Wheaton North 20-17 for their first win in the rivalry since 2019.
Over the last three mtachups, Wheaton Warrenville South (3-3, 2-2 DuKane Conference) has lost to Wheaton North by a combined 6 points, so this victory was even more personal.
"We knew it had been a while since we've beaten these guys," said Tigers running back Matt Crider. "We said the playoffs started this week after our loss [last week to St. Charles North], so we knew we had to come in here, stick it to them and get a big win."
Crider was, once again, a mainstay for the Tigers offense, carrying the ball 39 times for 163 yards. While he knew he was going to get the ball more than anyone on the team, Crider was quick to deflect the credit to his teammates.
"We had a number of guys step up tonight," Crider said. "That's really what I loved the most about tonight. There were so many people that played a part in the win, and I'm so happy how we came together as a group to get the win."
The Tigers did not trail Friday in large part to the turnovers their defense caused. After Joshua Pratt recovered the fumble on the game's first play from scrimmage, which led to a Maison Haas field goal, Luke Dato intercepted Wheaton North quarterback Max Howser on the Falcons' second possession.
The Tigers drove down the field, and Luca Carbonaro found Amari Williams for his first of two receiving touchdowns on the night -- a 12-yard score -- to give Wheaton Warrenville South a 10-0 advantage.
"We constantly talk about the importance of all three phases (offense, defense and special teams) working together," Norris said. "The defense causing those turnovers was a hug momentum swing right away in our favor.
"This game is always going to be tight, and points are the most important thing. I thought the defense bent at times tonight but didn't break. They came up big when we needed them to, and I'm really proud of the grit and determination that group showed to stick with it and never give up."
As Norris mentioned, the Falcons weren't going to go quietly. Wheaton North (3-3, 2-2) battled back to trail by just 3 at the halftime break before Williams' second touchdown extended the Tigers' lead back to 10.
After an interception in the end zone in the final minutes by Wheaton Warrenville South linebacker John Jensen appeared to seal the victory, the Falcons forced a quick punt and struck quick.
Howser found standout receiver Matt Kuczaj for a 47-yard touchdown to cut the Tigers' lead to 20-17, but the ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful. Kuczaj finished with game-highs in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (154) and also blocked a field-goal attempt. Walker Owens also made several tackles from his defensive end spot, while Howser finished the night 22-for-39 passing for 330 yards in the loss for Wheaton North.
Despite the Wheaton North comeback attempt, the confidence remained high throughout the rivalry win.
"We took that loss personally last week and weren't going to let it happen again," said Williams, who finished with 7 receptions for 77 yards and those 2 scores. "To come back and bounce back this week, in this this cross-town rivalry game is everything. We put our blood, sweat and tears into practice this week and have been looking forward to this game since last fall."