The Oswego Panthers varsity team opened up its football season on Friday when it played and defeated Plainfield Central 42-3. The offensive attack was lead by junior first year starting quarterback Cole Pradel, who threw for 167 yards and two touchdowns in just two quarters of play. Senior running back Charles Laird also was a major contributor to the offense, cashing in three touchdowns.
Senior wideout Jack Lemke had five receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown, while his counterpart, senior Joey Niesman, had 28 yards and a touchdown through the air. Sophomore Jacob Sergen also got into the action, notching 19 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
“These kids were tired of practicing, and ready to hit someone else,” Oswego head coach Brian Cooney said postgame.
The Panthers stormed out of the gate. Lemke took the opening kickoff 43 yards to mid-field to give the offense good field position to start. After a first down on a 10-yard completion from Pradel to senior David Wilson, the offense stalled, turning the ball over on downs.
“We had some mistakes,” Pradel said about the opening drive. “There was stuff that I saw and the coaches saw on the field, and we knew what plays could work later in the game.”
The defense then made its season debut, and it was a quick one. Senior defensive lineman Jack Hugunin forced senior Wildcat running back Brandon Shoemaker to fumble on the second play of the drive, giving Pradel and the offense another opportunity.
On the second play of the drive following the fumble recovery, Pradel took the snap and dropped to throw. He felt pressure from his left side and escaped out to the right, only to encounter more pressure. So, in a desperation move, he let one float off his back foot toward the end zone, where Niesman jumped up and snatched the ball out of the air and came down for the first score of 2019.
“I like the way he plays,” Cooney said of Pradel. “I like the way he leads.”
On the ensuing possession for the Wildcats, senior quarterback James Buck was picked off by junior Panther linebacker Jacob Garlick, setting the Panthers up with a short 12-yard field. Sergen would capitalize on the turnover, scampering into the endzone for a 12-yard touchdown, putting the Panthers up 14-0.
Laird would get into the scorebook early in the second quarter, when he capped off a 62-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.
“Laird is going to keep this up,” Cooney explained. “He’s going to be a really good story.”
Lemke was the number two receiver on the depth chart last year behind the graduated Jamal Fomby Jr. Last year, Fomby drew all the double teams, but this year, Lemke is going to be the recipient of the extra attention from the opposing defense.
Lemke broke a big play late in the first half when Pradel hooked up with him for a 38-yard touchdown, putting the Panthers up 42-0.
“I’m just going to run my route, [and Pradel] will make the right decision on who to throw it to. It doesn’t always have to be me,” Lemke said about attracting double teams. “It’s a team sport. We win as a team and lose as a team.”
The offense wasn’t the only thing on display Friday night. The defense picked up right where it left off in last year’s conference season.
The Panthers forced two interceptions and one fumble on the night. Garlick had one interception, while junior defensive back Joey Lumino had the other.
The defensive line was the strongest part of this team coming into the season. Northern Illinois University commit Jack Hugunin led the way in the trenches, but he wasn’t the one who caught the crowd’s attention Friday. It was junior Anthony Cikauskas who stole the show, notching three of the four Panther sacks on the night.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Cooney said about Cikauskas’ performance. “We’ll take a look at the film; he must have been doing something right.”
Despite the dominant performance, Cooney still believes there is room for improvement.
“Still a lot of easy things we could fix up, getting misaligned and what not,” Cooney explained. “We’ll work on getting those things fixed.”
This week, the Panthers take on Joliet West at 6:30 p.m. at Joliet West High School on Friday, Sept. 6.