Oswego (8-1) and Minooka (9-0) faced off in a football game that would decide the champion of the Southwest Prairie Conference this past Friday. The Panthers dominated the conference over the last decade, but their unprecedented stretch came to an end on Friday, with a 28-21 Indian victory.
Entering Friday night, the Panthers had won 36 consecutive home conference games. They had also not lost to Minooka in over eight years. Oswego came in looking for its ninth consecutive SPC Championship, but the Indians, who were the favorites coming into the game, had other ideas.
The Indians dominated the game on the ground, rushing for an accumulative total of 150 yards, led by senior Noah Ellens, who rushed for 92 of those yards. The Indians put forth a good effort through the air, as senior quarterback Seth Lehr passed for 125 yards, with 12 completions on 19 attempts. Lehr’s favorite target was senior Trent Hudak, whom he connected with seven times for 79 yards.
On the Panthers’ side of the ball, junior quarterback Cole Pradel, completed 11 of his 19 passes for 131 yards, with one touchdown, and two interceptions. Notably, Pradell rushed for over 80 yards, which paved the way for multiple extended drives.
Pradel connected six times with senior wide receiver, Jack Lemke—his No. 1 target—for 92 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown.
“We saw some opportunities on film we thought would be there, and sure enough, they were,” Panther Head Coach Brian Cooney said. “It was pretty impressive.”
The Panthers went into halftime with a 13-7 lead.
“Our goal was to come out fast and hard. At half time, we wanted to keep doing the same things we were doing and just improve on the little things,” Pradel said
The second half opened with an Indian drive that ended in a 34-yard touchdown run by Ellens, to give Minooka the lead.
The Panthers attempted to respond, but the drive ended in an interception. The Indians drove the ball into the redzone, but the Panther defense was able to force a fourth down. Instead of attempting a field goal, the Indians opted to go for it on fourth and medium. Lehr sent a pass into the endzone that was broken up by junior defensive back Joey Demarco, giving the Panthers the ball.
On the very next play, Pradel handed the ball off to Lemke on an end around, and after one cut, Lemke was off to the races blazing the Indian secondary for an 84-yard score. The touchdown gave the Panthers major momentum that they hadn’t had since the first half.
“I saw a gap and I took it,” Lemke said. “I turned on the jets and ended up in the endzone.”
The Panthers went for two, and were successful on a read option with junior Beau Miller.
The Indians responded almost immediately, with a 23-yard from Lehr to Hudak, tying the game at 21 a piece.
The ensuing possession for the Panthers stalled just across midfield, when they failed to pick up a fourth down, giving Minooka the ball with a chance to take the lead.
The Indians drove the ball just over half the field, but it took over half of the quarter. The 13-play drive ended in a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Indians a 28-21 lead with just over two minutes to play in the game.
The Minooka offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage during this drive, and converted multiple third downs in order to keep the chains moving.
“They gameplanned for a situation like that, and you could tell,” senior Jack Hugunin said. “[Minooka] put their hands in the ground and they came after us. [We] have to learn from it.”
Pradel and the Panthers had an opportunity to tie the game, but they would need to execute the two-minute offense.
On the first play of the drive, Pradel rolled to his left, and as he was about to go out of bounds, Pradel heaved the ball far down the field to avoid losing yardage. The pass fell incomplete far down the sideline, and after a bit of discussion, an intentional grounding penalty was called, much to the dismay of the home crowd.
The Panthers argued that since Pradel was out of the tackle box and the pass crossed the line of scrimmage, there shouldn’t have been a penalty, but the referees saw otherwise, resulting in a loss of down and a 10-yard spot foul.
The next play gave the Panthers hope, as Pradel connected with junior Nick Hampton for an eight yard gain, setting up a third and manageable.
Pradel dropped to pass, and threw it into the middle of the field where Lemke and Hampton were clumped up on crossing patterns. The ball was slightly deflected and was intercepted by Minooka, quickly ending any glimmer of hope the Panthers had left, and giving Minooka the SPC championship.
“I saw [Hampton and Lemke] stacked right on top of each other, and I thought I could squeeze it in,” Pradel said.
The Panthers had a couple of costly penalties throughout the game, including the intentional grounding, and a block in the back that nullified a long catch and run that would have put the Panthers deep into Minooka territory.
The Indians had zero penalties.
“I’m not going to blame the officials,” Cooney said. “But when you see that lopsided amount of penalties, it might suggest some other things, but [we’re] moving on.”
Despite the loss, the Panthers, with an 8-1 record, qualified for the playoffs as the five seed in class 8A. They will take on Elgin, the 5-4 28 seed, this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Ken Pickerill Stadium.
“It’s definitely hard,” Pradel said about the loss. “But, I think it’s just going to make us more hungry for a deep playoff run.”
This is my third year as a part of 42Fifty. I have served as Sports Editor and Managing Editor prior to this year. I am the play by play announcer for underclassmen sports here at OHS, and the color commentator for the varsity football and both varsity basketball teams. I also announce for the NFHS Network throughout the football and basketball playoffs.