Oswego High School (7-0, 3-0) took on its rival from down Wolf’s Crossing, Oswego East (4-3, 0-3), in the 15th annual Crosstown Game. The Panthers came in looking to stay undefeated in both the season and the all-time series against the Wolves. Oswego played a complete game on both sides of the football, winning 14-3.
The Panthers had defeated the Wolves the previous 14 years entering this year’s matchup, and that trend continued in 2019.
The Panthers dominated the game on the ground, rushing the ball 43 times for 140 yards as a team. Oswego East’s defense contained the rushing attack early, but as the game went on, Oswego’s offensive line started to wear down OE’s front seven.
“They were definitely well prepared,” junior quarterback Cole Pradel said about the Wolves’ defense. “We had to get in our rhythm offensively.”
Oswego East started the game with the football. They drove the ball deep into the Panther territory, reaching the red zone. The Wolves looked poised to score before OE’s junior quarterback Michael Ford fumbled the football attempting to scramble to the endzone. The ball was jumped on by senior Defensive Back Michael Mitchell for Oswego.
The momentum grabbed from the fumble recovery was short-lived, as just two plays later, Pradel was intercepted after his ball was deflected at the line of scrimmage, giving the Wolves the ball back in prime scoring territory.
The Panther defense responded, pushing the Wolves back, and forcing them to attempt a field goal. The chip shot was converted by senior Kicker Andre Casas, giving OE an early 3-0 lead.
“They hit us with a couple RPOs and that was a good scheme on their part,” Panther head coach Brian Cooney said about the start of the game defensively for his team. “It took us a while to adjust; in fact, I don’t know if we ever truly did.”
The ensuing possession, the Panthers offense struggled to find their groove, having to punt after gaining just one first down. Oswego East’s drive following the Panther punt would end in a three and out.
After trading punts, the Panther offense would finally get it rolling, starting the drive out with a yard run from senior Charles Laird. After an eight-yard completion to junior Nick Hampton, and a five-yard scamper by Pradel, the Panther offense would finally break through with arguably their best play of the year.
Pradel hooked up with senior wide receiver Joey Niesman for a 30-yard touchdown pass. But this wasn’t any ordinary touchdown pass. Niesman ran a streak down the right sideline. Pradel heaved a lob pass towards the front corner of the endzone. Niesman went up with one hand, snagged the football, secured it to his chest and survived the ground for the touchdown grab.
“Corner lined up to close me and I knew I could beat him,” Niesman said. “It was a race to the endzone, and threw it high, and I like it like that. I jumped up there, got it, and it was a perfect throw from .”
That play would be more than half of the total passing offense in the first half, but every yard would be worth it, as the touchdown got the crowd going again.
“Turning around and seeing the whole crowd roar was one of the best moments of my life,” Niesman said.
Niesman finished with two receptions for 43 yards and one touchdown. Pradel finished the evening with 120 yards, on 10 for 16 passing.
Later in the half, the Panthers would face a fourth and short, and they brought in a new “Jumbo” package, featuring one of their defensive stars. Senior defensive linemen and Northern Illinois University recruit Jack Hugunin came into the game at the fullback position. Hugunin got his Refrigerator Perry moment and scampered for eight yards and a first down. He got another running opportunity in the second half which he fell forward for a yard.
“It was unreal,” Hugunin said. “We practiced it this week, and I was like, ‘I better get the ball.’ So when they finally called the play, I was nervous.”
The offense wasn’t the only thing clicking on Friday night. The defense also came through in clutch situations.
The defense tallied three sacks, an interception by senior DB Aric Nieves, and two fumble recoveries, one by Mitchell, and another by junior DJ Radecki.
Hugunin tallied one of those sacks. He hasn’t had many opportunities to reach the opposing quarterback due to teams double-teaming him, but the Wolves left him covered one on one most of the night, and he took advantage.
“They tried single blocking me, and that didn’t turn out so well,” Hugunin said. “I just play my game and ball out.”
The defense held Ford to just 99 yards through the air.
The Panthers would tack on a second touchdown on a Pradel QB sneak up the middle to extend the lead to 14-3 after the extra point.
With time running down in the fourth, the Wolves attempted a 49-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game. Casas gave the kick plenty of leg, but missed the kick just left of the upright, giving the Panthers the ball back with an opportunity to run the clock out. After gaining a pair of first downs, Pradel took a knee and ended the game, giving the Panthers their seventh win of the season, and their 15th straight win over the Wolves, moving their all-time record against the Wolves to 15-0.
Next week, the Panthers take on the 6-1 Yorkville Foxes, who gave the conference favorite Minooka Indians a run for their money last week. It will be the toughest game to this point of the season for the Panthers, but they are not going to treat it any differently.
“It’s just another week,” Hugunin said.