NEW LENOX – Speed and character.
Two words that best described Friday night’s SouthWest Suburban Red football showdown.
Visiting Thornton (5-0, 3-0) possessed amazing speed. Tailback Tionte McDaniel ran through the vaunted Lincoln-Way West defense for 227 yards and three touchdowns. Thornton quarterback Sam Taylor raced for 135 yards and a score as the Wildcats amassed 406 yards rushing.
The Wildcats led, 28-7, at halftime and 35-14 after three quarters before surviving the Warriors’ furious fourth-quarter comeback in a heart-stopping 35-28 victory. The Wildcats thus stay atop the conference with Lincoln-Way North (5-0, 3-0), a 28-14 winner over Bradley on Friday.
As for character, the Warriors (4-1, 2-1) showed it. Half the Warrior fans went home at halftime with the score 35-7, but the Warriors didn’t stop playing. On the first play of the fourth quarter, West quarterback Connor Lowman (14 for 28, 147 yards, one touchdown; eight carries, 40 yards, a touchdown) scored from 4 yards out to make it 35-21. Thornton moved down the field, but the Warriors’ Cam Gavin intercepted Taylor at the 22.
The Warriors, behind Lowman and running back Gabe Montalvo (26 carries, 192 yards, touchdown), marched 78 yards. With 4:21 left, they scored on a picture-perfect pass from Lowman to Jake Mauney (two catches, 43 yards, touchdown). Kevin Siemeck’s kick made it 35-28.
West’s onside kick failed, but the rejuvenated Warrior defense responded. Consecutive tackles for losses by Cortez Michalski, Gavin and Deven Reed forced a punt. The Warriors took over on their 22 with 1:51 left.
Lowman tried to hit Mauney across the middle, but the ball was intercepted by Remi Simmons at the 32. Thornton ran out the clock.
“Coach told us never to give up,” Lowman said. “We’re family here at Lincoln-Way West and we really showed what we are made of. We fought hard and fell a little short. We’ll get back to work and fix some things and hopefully play well next week at Thornwood.”
Two missed opportunities in the first half came back to haunt the Warriors. Taking the opening kickoff, they drove to the Wildcat 21 only to miss a 31-yard field goal. After Thornton scored on a McDaniel 2-yard run, the Warriors fumbled on the Thornton 3 on a fourth-and-1.
“I told the kids that I made some coaching decisions that might have cost us the game,” West coach Dave Ernst said. “I am so proud of the way we fought and fought tonight. This one’s on me.”
In the second quarter, Master Powell scored from 8 yards out, and with the successful two-point conversion, Thornton led 14-0. Mauney took the ensuing kickoff and went an electrifying 86 yards for a touchdown.
Taylor ran 58 yards McDaniel 21 for two more Thornton scores and a 28-7 halftime lead. Early in the third quarter, McDaniel’s 73-yard run made it 35-7. Montalvo answered a minute later with a 33-yard TD run.
“We fought back hard tonight,” Montalvo said. “We just wouldn’t quit.”
“Amazing speed from Thornton,” Ernst added. “We finally stopped them late and we showed tremendous character with the way we fought back. Connor [Lowman] had a great second half and we should have caught a couple of his passes in the first half. Gabe was our work horse, carrying the ball 26 times for 192 yards.”
Warrior tight end Ben Zordani hauled in six passes for 47 yards, and Dylan McHale caught two for 33 yards before leaving with an ankle injury.