JOLIET – Meekah Ben-Israel has been playing football for 10 years and never had scored a touchdown.
The Joliet West senior linebacker has been busy keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone.
On Saturday afternoon, things were getting tense, very tense, at West as district and SouthWest Suburban Blue rival Joliet Central was on a mission. Only a failed two-point conversion with 8:46 left allowed West to cling to a 14-12 lead that had been 14-0 at halftime.
Central not only wanted to spoil the Tigers’ homecoming, but also was intent on not allowing its losing streak to reach 50.
The Steelmen (0-5, 0-3) were facing a third-and-12 on their 46 in the final minute when Ben-Israel intercepted a Zach Wisneski pass over the middle and returned it 58 yards as he ran through Wisneski en route to the end zone. James Newby’s extra point clinched it, making the final 21-12.
“That’s my first touchdown in 10 years of football, and it feels great,” said the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ben-Israel, whose strip moments earlier caused a key fumble that West’s Drew Smith recovered. “I felt like a fat guy running with the ball. I wasn’t going very fast, but I had to get there.”
“We needed Meekah’s interception return,” West coach Jason Aubry said. “We were looking for something like that earlier in the game. He made the drop where he was supposed to and did the job.”
As Aubry added, “a win is a win is a win.”
“Central came out and played,” Ben-Israel said. “I knew we were in for a game when they came out and had a long drive right away. Central is not a garbage team. I love playing against them. I grew up with some of those guys.”
“We knew they’ve been playing pretty well,” Aubry said. “They can do some things, and we did not have our best game. We probably had more yards in penalties than we had offensively.”
It was close. The Tigers (3-2, 2-1) managed 194 yards of offense and were whistled for 16 penalties totaling 177 yards. The yellow flags against West might have helped Central stick around, but there was something else at work.
“I think what you saw all game was if we just keep on schedule and run what we do best, we can compete,” Steelmen coach Brett Boyter said. “Our guys did a magnificent job, especially considering all the pre-snap penalties [Central was whistled nine times for 55 yards]. We put ourselves in position to win, and that’s all you can ask.
“The only thing I said before the game was don’t take anything off this field. Leave it all there. No doubt, every one of these guys left all they’ve got out there.”
West was without senior quarterback Alex Tibble, who suffered a concussion the previous week against Bolingbrook.
“Right now, Alex has not been cleared to come back,” Aubry said. “We’re going to roll with what we have.”
So Aubry used Tibble, whom he describes as “a smart kid and a smart football player,” as a sort of assistant coach, signaling calls in to freshman quarterback Jaxon Aubry, the coach’s son.
Aubry completed 3 of 13 passes for 53 yards and was intercepted once, by Allen Smith. His 46-yard completion to freshman Kevon Dorris set up Jakob Coyl’s 4-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Central fumbled the ensuing kickoff, West’s Zack Browning recovered on the Steelmen 32, and Coyl went the distance on the next play for a 14-0 lead. Coyl finished with 119 yards in 21 carries.
“Jaxon will be better next week with this game under his belt,” Jason Aubry said. “And the big thing is, we won and move on to next week.”
Wisneski – who was sacked eight times as Tigers defensive tackles Patrick Leaf and Julius Garrett were major culprits – finished 22 of 39 for 172 yards. Kamren Smith caught eight for 71 yards and Jomarre McNair seven for 64. Central finished with 150 total yards, including a net of minus-22 rushing.
Wisneski had the Steelmen knocking on the door just before halftime, but Drew Smith intercepted his pass in the end zone on first-and-goal from the 10. McNair’s 31-yard reception led to Central’s first score, Ernest Grant’s 3-yard run.
Marcus Stone’s fumble recovery at the West 19 set up the Steelmen’s second score, with McNair making a nice grab of a 2-yard fade pass from Wisneski.
That all helped set the stage for one whale of a finish.