Having outscored West Aurora by a staggering 103-6 margin the past two years, Wheaton Warrenville South's football team found itself locked in a scoreless halftime battle with the Blackhawks Friday night at Red Grange Field.
Things looked a bit worse for the Tigers (1-2, 1-0) after the Blackhawks' Jonathon Gosong recovered the opening pooch kick of the second half inside the Tigers' 20-yard line. Five plays later, Shon Enoch took a handoff from quarterback Richard Renner around left end for a 7-yard touchdown, giving the Blackhawks (2-1, 0-1) a 6-0 lead after the failed PAT attempt.
"Coming out at halftime all fired up and them having a big play like that, I personally said to myself, 'We need to make a big play because we've got to get this game turned around,'" said Tigers running back Dan Vitale.
The Northwestern-bound senior tailback, held to 47 first-half yards, proved to be a man of his word as he ran for 119 of his game-high 166 yards and tallied 3 touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 20-6 victory over West Aurora in both teams' DuPage Valley Conference opener.
"We never want to be down," Vitale said. "We want to be the team in the lead the entire game. We really needed a big play in that second half, and it ended up just turning into big drives that turned the game around for us."
Vitale's 14-yard TD run capped a 6-play, 49-yard drive, and Jesse Padalik's PAT kick gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead with 2:06 left in the third quarter. An interception by Dan Roadman on the Blackhawks' next offensive series helped set up Vitale's 1-yard TD plunge to extend the Tigers' lead to 13-6 after West Aurora's Preston Felker blocked the extra-point try.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers again took advantage of a short field, marching 51 yards in 7 plays for an insurance score a 28-yard TD run by Vitale to make it 20-6.
"I rode the big dog today," Tigers coach Ron Muhitch said of Vitale. "I promised the team that we were going to do that. My reason for doing that was because (the Blackhawks are) a very good football team. Their defense is outstanding."
Led by a pair of interceptions from Grant Meyer, the Tigers proved they also have a pretty solid defense, limiting the Blackhawks to 35 rushing yards.
"Our defense has been playing at a high level for three weeks against some very good competition," Muhitch said of games against Glenbard West, Maine South and West Aurora.
Offensively, it has been another story.
"These first three weeks haven't been easy," Muhitch said. "We've been struggling with the youth movement, new quarterbacks and new receivers on offense and it shows. It has thrown football back like 20 years it seems like for us offensively."
With sophomore Quintez Jones making his first varsity start at quarterback while rotating with senior Renner, West Aurora was searching for its first DVC win over WW South in 15 tries.
"We've got to take this effort and keep building off it," said Blackhawks coach Nate Eimer. "We can't have this be the height of our season.
"I thought our defense was unbelievable tonight. We still haven't beaten these guys, but we're getting closer."