MINOOKA — While all good football teams would like to win first-round games in the IHSA playoffs in impressive fashion, the bottom line is often just moving along in the competition, even if it isn't their best showing.
That was pretty much the approach that Minooka took on Friday after the top-seeded team in Class 8A had a fight on its hands in the opening half against an energized Joliet West squad which took an early 7-0 lead.
But the Indians scored three touchdowns within a span of just over eight minutes to take control and went on to capture a 20-7 victory that improved them to 10-0 and advances them to a second-round home game against Edwardsville, who won 44-17 over St. Charles East.
"We knew that it would be a different game than the first game and told the kids that," Indians coach John Belskis said. "Both times on the opening drive they went down and scored and then our defense shut them out. Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and a lack of execution. It's just a matter of surviving and advancing in the playoffs."
Seth Lehr threw a touchdown pass to Noah Ellens in the final minute of the first half and then tossed another scoring pass to Steven Gonzalez early in the second half to conclude the scoring against West, who it beat 49-7 in the opener.
"They did what they did in the first game against us with a long drive," Lehr said. "But we made some adjustments and were able to bounce back and put some points on the board. And there's always room for improvement."
The Tigers (4-6) went 82 yards on 13 plays on their first possession to grab a 7-0 lead with 4:47 left in the opening quarter. Trent Howland (31-168 rushing) had 71 yards on 10 carries and capped the drive with a one-yard run.
Early in the second quarter, Minooka when took over at West's 17 following a mishandled snap on a punt. Zach Wingerter ran in from six yards out to tie things at 7-7 with 6:53 left in the first half.
Taking over at their 36 with 2:42 left before the break, Lehr (8-13, 88 passing, 5-26 rushing) completed five passes for 59 yards with the last being a 16-yard scoring strike to Noah Ellens (17-97 rushing) with 59 seconds left.
"I didn't think our focus was there all the way the whole game and we definitely should have played a lot better," Ellens said. "We're disappointed about the way we played but we also are happy that we did enough to win the game. Our o-line got good surges so we were able to continue to move the ball. From here on out, we'll focus a lot more on discipline."
The Indians kicked off the third quarter with a 63-yard drive that took just over a minute to complete. With Ellens piling up good rushes, the drive was capped with a 24-yard scoring pass from Lehr to Steven Gonzalez to complete the scoring. In the final half, Minooka got interceptions from Ernesto Ramirez and Nicholas Schultz.
After capturing its first league title in 50 years and making history as a 4-5 conference champion that earned a playoff trip following a strong finish, fortunes look very bright for a Tigers program that captured the conference title at the sophomore level.
"We challenged them all week to see how much they've grown," Tigers coach Bill Lech said. "I couldn't be more proud of a group of kids. I hope our kids understand what they need to do to continue at this level. Hopefully with a good level of dedication and commitment in the offseason and in the classroom, the sky's the limit right now."