Tigers deal Eagles heavy blow
Like Siegfried and Roy, Dave Wierzal has had a knack for handling Tigers.
In the Sandburg coach’s case, the cats in question suit up for Joliet West. While the Tigers haven’t always been an easy capture — last year’s game pretty much went down to the wire — the Eagles have always found a way to prevail during Wierzal's tenure.
Until Friday night, that is.
Racking up 140 more yards than its hosts, Joliet West never trailed in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue contest. Sandburg was within four points of the Tigers at the start of the fourth quarter, but another Joliet West touchdown sealed the deal as it bagged a 21-10 win at Seliga Field that put the Eagles in a somewhat precarious position playoff-wise.
While the postseason is still over a month away, Sandburg (2-2, 1-1) now must beat at least one of the conference’s acknowledged power players — Bolingbrook, Lincoln-Way East and Homewood-Flossmoor — in the weeks ahead in order to have a chance at qualifying. Potentially dangerous, too, is fellow District 230 member Stagg.
“I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to address this,” Wierzal said. “This is a situation I haven’t been in in eight years as far as a team dynamic.
“We’ve got to acknowledge our situation, but I don’t want that to be the thing we dwell on. We have to work on playing better football and play to our standards — we didn’t do that in this game.”
In a performance sense it wasn’t completely a lost cause for the Eagles. Their one touchdown drive, for example, covered 95 yards as Jim Robley capped the 11-play march with a 2-yard scoring run. Two of the pivotal plays were receptions of 32 and 21 yards by Zak Razik and Adam Valiga (seven catches, 95 yards), respectively.
But there were also plays Wierzal would love to have had back. Among them was a fourth-down play at Joliet’s 34 on Sandburg’s initial possession that went nowhere, a first-quarter interception and a couple passes that were dropped in the end zone during the second period.
“We hurt ourselves a lot, but I don’t want to single out those things because I could go right down the line,” Wierzal said. “There were a variety of things that went wrong across the board that made it difficult for us to stay competitive. They played more mistake-free football and showed the ability to move the ball more than we did. We just didn’t execute.”
The Tigers did so well enough to tally twice in the first half. John Choate’s 6-yard catch got the scoring underway late in the opening quarter, but the bigger dagger plunged into the Eagles was Evan French’s 80-yard TD reception that was delivered just 13 seconds after Jonathan Milazzo got Sandburg on the board with a 25-yard field goal in the later stages of the second stanza.
“That was definitely heartbreaking,” Wierzal said. “We kicked off in the end zone, so they’ve got to go 80 yards in three minutes. You think that’s a pretty good situation.”
Before halftime arrived, Joliet threatened again but was halted at the Eagles’ 25 by a fumble. Patrick Brucki (eight solo stops, six assists, forced fumble), Matt Frostman (six solos, one assist), Ian Chladek (six solos, four assists), Brian Krasowski (five solos, one assist, one sack), Marcus Payton (five solos), Anthony Lopez (five solos), Greg Ostrowski (four solos, three assists, fumble recovery, one sack) and Mike Saylors (four solos, one assist) all made their presences felt on behalf of Sandburg’s defense.
Chladek and Payton were subs seeing action, the former doing so as a fill-in for all-area linebacker Graham Hevel, who was ill.
After Robley drew the Eagles within 14-10 with his 2-yard dash midway through the third period, the Tigers again retaliated in kind. This time they chewed six minutes off the clock while traveling 80 yards in 15 plays, a drive culminated by Bernard Thompson’s 3-yard run that restored a double-digit edge for the visitors.
“There was still plenty of time, but the way they responded was kind of frustrating,” Wierzal said of Joliet’s third touchdown, which was collected four seconds into the final quarter. “It was not necessary to hit a panic button, but that’s not what we planned on.”
Nor was the mishandled snap that short-circuited Sandburg’s ensuing series deep in Tigers territory. The drop came at the Joliet 20 on a fourth-and-2 play.
“That was a series we needed to score on,” Wierzal said. “We were in field-goal range, but we felt good about going for it on fourth down. I think our inexperience is showing at times.”
One more Eagles march also ended unsuccessfully because of an interception. Wierzal praised the Tigers afterward, saying they “played well on both sides of the ball.”
Sandburg gets pitted against Joliet’s other SWSC Blue representative, Joliet Central, on Saturday. Unlike Joliet West the Steelmen have been struggling, but Wierzal doesn’t want his guys becoming overconfident because of that.
“Anything is still possible,” he said. “There seems like there’s more parity [overall] this year.”
Joliet West 7 7 0 7 — 21
Sandburg 0 3 7 0 — 10
First downs 19 15
Yds. rushing 103 39
Yds. passing 264 188
Total yds. 367 227
Att./comp. 27-18 27-14
Fumbles/lost 1-1 3-1
Had intercepted 0 3
Penalties/yds. 9-80 5-55
Punts/avg. 6-33.7 4-48.0
JW — John Choate 6 pass from Alex Tibble (Kyle Kopchak kick)
CS — Jonathan Milazzo 25 field goal
JW — Evan French 80 pass from Tibble (Kopchak kick)
CS — Jim Robley 2 run (Milazzo kick)
JW — Bernard Thompson 3 run (Kopchak kick)
Sandburg Rushing: Robley 13-63, Scheldberg 7-9, Johnson 1-5, Verble 7-(-38). Passing: Verble 27-14-188. Receiving: Valiga 7-95, Carney 4-30, Razik 1-32, T. Brown 1-16, Robley 1-15.