JOLIET – Joliet West is a talented offensive football team.
Plainfield South coach Ken Bublitz stressed that point Friday night after his Cougars dropped a 21-6 nonconference decision to the visiting Tigers.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to sustain drives,” Bublitz said. “We didn’t give our defense any breathers. West is too good, they are too talented, for us to do that.”
The Tigers moved to 2-0 entering the SouthWest Suburban Blue portion of the schedule, which begins Friday at home against Lincoln-Way East. South (0-2) heads into the Southwest Prairie schedule at Plainfield East in a search for offensive consistency.
“We sputtered all night,” said Bublitz, whose team managed no first downs and five net yards in the middle two quarters combined as the defense for West – including linemen Jessie Rhymes Jr., Julius Garrett, Juan Hernandez, Matthew Orbell, Jesse Ibarra and Noah Dulski, linebackers Meekah Ben-Israel, Jacob Pullen and Andrew Smith, cornerbacks Marcus Williams and Cody Norman and safeties Roman Johnson and Marcus Blackmon – imposed its will.
“Our whole defense is playing well,” Williams said, a thought echoed by West coach Jason Aubry.
Williams and Johnson intercepted passes. Pullen, Hernandez, Ibarra, Dulski and Garrett were in on sacks. Garrett recovered a fumble that Hernandez caused. Hernandez blocked an early field goal attempt and Garrett later blocked a punt.
The game began as a disjointed mess. The teams combined for 11 penalties and 98 yards in walkoffs in the first quarter alone.
“We started out kind of sketchy, but we made it work,” Williams said.
South had the first opportunity to score when the Cougars, with the help of a few West penalties, marched to the Tigers’ 5-yard line after taking the opening kickoff. But Hernandez, leading a parade of Tigers into the backfield, blocked a 21-yard field goal try.
“I just saw a bunch of black helmets there,” Williams said of the field goal block. “If whoever blocked it didn’t, I would have.”
Norman, who had an interception in last week’s season-opening victory at Moline, picked up the block and returned it 41 yards to the South 32.
But four incomplete passes later, the Tigers were back on defense.
West quarterback Alex Tibble injected some order to the proceedings when he hit wide receiver Xavier Smith on a 48-yard touchdown pass with 3:15 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
“It felt like we weren’t even on the same page offensively,” Aubry said. “It was disjointed. We didn’t hit any kind of groove until that pass to X [Smith], and then we were able to move the ball.”
“The touchdown was a regular fade pattern,” said Smith, who caught six passes for 87 yards and has 13 receptions for 198 yards in two games. “I worked a lot in the summer on my routes, and Tibs [Tibble] threw a perfect pass.
“I love the [spread] offense that we run. It’s well designed. You have to give our coaches a lot of credit.”
South responded to Smith’s touchdown with a 73-yard scoring drive to get within 7-6, the score coming on Jake Maher’s 7-yard run from Wildcat formation. But as Bublitz said, “Even when we got it to 7-6, it never felt like we were that close.”
The conversion kick failed.
“Our defense has been tremendous,” Bublitz said. “We have to get the other aspects – offense and the kicking game – going. And penalties just killed us.”
South was flagged 15 times for 156 yards, West 12 times for 97.
West built its lead to 21-6 before halftime, scoring on Jakob Coyl’s 7-yard run and Tibble’s 1-yard pass to John Choate after Tibble hit freshman Kevon Dorris with a 32-yard toss over the middle to the 1. The two-point conversion after Coyl’s score came on a trick-play pass from freshman Jaxon Aubry to Dorris.
Tibble finished 17 of 35 passing for 191 yards and the two touchowns. He was intercepted once, by linebacker Danny Saracco. West rushed for 87 yards.
“We didn’t rush for a lot of yards, but it seemed like we were able to run effectively in the second half,” Aubry said.
The night was dedicated to Sean McGail, 20, a former South football standout who died earlier this year from injuries suffered in a a motorcycle accident. Before the game, the public address announcer read a touching letter from McGrail’s parents.
The South sophomores won, 13-12, on a touchdown on a blocked punt with 1:46 remaining.