PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- On most Friday nights this season, Maine South’s offense will be able to take care itself and put plenty of points on the board.
On this Friday, the offense found itself in an unfamiliar place. It needed not just a little bit of assistance from its defense; it needed a lot.
Often overshadowed by its counterpart, Maine South’s defense gladly came to the rescue. The Hawks held No. 3 Wheaton Warrenville South scoreless on 12 of its 13 possessions and carried No. 1 Maine South to a 13-9 non-conference win.
“We knew they were going to have a tough defense, so it was going to be on our shoulders a lot,” Maine South senior linebacker Tyler Fahey said. “It was just an offensive struggle both ways. We just played our hearts out, watched a lot of film, and that’s what we dream of.”
Maine South’s defense discovered quickly how much of a factor it would have to play on Friday. Maine South received the opening kickoff, and its offense was stopped on three consecutive plays and was forced to punt. After a short punt, the Tigers took the ball over at Maine South’s 25-yard line, and three players later found the end zone on a one-yard run by Patrick Garner.
Like that, Wheaton Warrenville South was up 7-0 less than three minutes into the game.
“I think we were shocked on the first drive,” Maine South coach David Inserra said. “Three and out, bad punt and we were shocked.”
Maine South’s defense shrugged off the feeling. Wheaton Warrenville South (0-2) would have many more opportunities to score, but the Hawks never allowed again inside the end zone.
Wheaton Warrenville South’s best chance to score again came after a blocked punt, which gave it the ball on Maine South’s 16-yard line. After a first down, the Tigers had first and goal from the six-yard line. On four consecutive plays, Maine South didn’t allow them a yard.
“We have just been practicing those short down-by-the-goal-line type plays,” said Fahey, who later made a one-handed interception to halt a fourth-quarter drive. “We just wanted it more than them at the time. We knew that we were going to have to make a stand because our offense was struggling. We just played like we could.”
Maine South’s offense struggled throughout the evening, but did score just enough to pull out the win. Quarterback Matt Alviti accounted for the first touchdown with a two-yard run with 23 seconds left in the first quarter, and running back Paul Preston scored from one yard out to give the Hawks a 13-7 lead with 7:35 remaining in the first half.
Alviti was 12-of-25 passing for 114 yards and rushed for 72 yards. Preston rushed for 100 yards on 18 carries and had three receptions for 40 yards.
“Defense, hell of a game for them,” Alviti said. “They stepped up really big. They carried us all of game.”
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch felt his team mishandled another priceless opportunity to pull out a quality win. The Tigers had numerous chances to defeat Glenbard West last week, but also weren’t able to capitalize.
“If we’ve played No. 1 [Maine South] and truly played No. 2 [Glenbard West], the problem with it all is we can’t beat No. 3, which is us,” Muhitch said. “We’re beating ourselves in every game. I feel really bad for our team in the way we’re self-destructing in key moments. That’s a sign of young guys. That’s a sign of pressure moments.”
Muhitch tried it all offensively against Maine South. He went with starting quarterback Thaddeus Armstrong until the third quarter and then turned to sophomore quarterback Ryan Graham. Graham was of 8-of-18 passing for 44 yards, and Armstrong was 5 of 15 for 41 yards.
Wheaton Warrenville South scored its other points when it blocked a Maine South punt into the back of the end zone for a safety in the third quarter.
The Tigers’ defense was what kept them in the game. Defensive lineman Mark Rooney and linebacker Brandon Peterson were near the ball on almost every play, and Maine South’s offense couldn’t find a rhythm throughout the game.
“I want to tell you that effort tonight by our team was exceptional,” Muhitch said. “If that’s the top passing game in the land, I would say our defense showed up tonight.”
Wheaton Warrenville South will now try to duplicate what last year’s Maine South team by going 0-2 to start the season and then winning a state championship.
Inserra was pleased to be 2-0 and went as far as comparing his team’s win on Friday to the sort Ozzie Guillen’s squad pulled out during its championship run.
“It was an ugly 2005 White Sox type of win and they won a championship,” Inserra said. “I’ll take it.”