(5) Oswego (9-1) punched their ticket to the second round of IHSA 8A football playoffs with a 42-8 victory over (28) Elgin (5-5) on Friday night. The Panthers utilized a balanced offensive attack and a dominating defense to stifle the Maroons, and cruise to victory.
The Panther offense was led by junior quarterback Cole Pradel, who threw for 136 yards on 8-9 passing and three touchdowns, all in the first half. He added 27 yards along with a touchdown on the ground. The Maroons had no answer for the Panther defense, as Oswego forced three turnovers and got to one of the three different Elgin quarterbacks three times. Junior defensive lineman Anthony Cikauskas had all three sacks, along with two fumble recoveries, including one in the endzone for a Panther touchdown.
After a devastating defeat just one week earlier to Minooka, the Panthers looked for a bounce-back game against a team in Elgin that hadn’t reached the playoffs in nine years. Oswego came out and sent a message, dominating the line of scrimmage from the opening kickoff, and not looking back.
“We definitely came into this week with a different mindset,” Pradel said. “That loss kind of woke us up and made us hungry.”
The Panther defense had struggled the past two weeks against Minooka and Yorkville, but this week returned to their roots, holding a shutout into the fourth quarter.
“They’ve got athletes across the board,” Panther head coach Brian Cooney said about the Maroons offense. “The game plan called for knowing where two specific receivers were going to be, and to bottle up the quarterback[s] and stay in front of them and to let the pocket collapse.”
The defensive line got back to its roots, as Cikauskas blew up play after play, notching three sacks and two fumble recoveries, one of which was recovered in the endzone for a touchdown.
“We had to contain the quarterback,” Cikauskas said. “Stopping [the opponent] and helping the team is always a good feeling, especially in the playoffs.”
The offense was clicking as well, as Pradel dominated the first half, scoring four total touchdowns on his own. However, despite the outstanding performance, Pradel credits his teammates for his success.
“My offensive line hasn’t gotten enough credit this year,” Pradel said. “They’re giving me time and my receivers are all athletic, they all have great route running, and great hands.”
One of the receivers who got to show off his hands in the first half was junior Nick Hampton, who recorded four receptions for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Hampton has been the number two target all year for Pradel, but now Lemke is drawing more double teams, which is leaving Hampton lined up in one on one situations.
“[Lemke] definitely got a lot of action in the regular season,” Pradel said. “Going forward we are going to look to open up the playbook and spread the ball around as much as we can.”
The conditions on Friday were wet and sloppy, turning what started as an “Ice Bowl” into a “Mud Bowl” in the second half, which played right into the Panthers’ hands.
The Elgin offense came in averaging nearly 260 passing yards per game. However, the rainy and muddy conditions were not conducive to a passing style of play.
“This team likes a lot of empty and is built to throw the ball deep,” Cooney said. “To our advantage, the turf didn’t allow for that and our defensive line doesn’t really play that game, so we were able to collapse on them.”
After the game, the field was all torn up, the middle of the field was the equivalent to a hog pit, and the hash marks were replaced by piles of mud.
“It affected everything,” Cikauskas said about the field conditions. “We had no foot placement at all; it was slippery and we had to make sure we were taking short, fast steps.”
Last week the Panthers struggled with penalties, and early in the first half, the struggles continued. Oswego committed multiple neutral zone infractions early in the game that extended Elgin drives early in the game, but none of the penalties ultimately cost the Panthers this week, unlike last week.
“We just have to be smart,” Cikauskas said about the team’s penalty difficulties.
The Panthers face 7-3 (21) Bolingbrook, who defeated Hinsdale Central 42-13, Saturday night at 6 p.m. on the black turf of Bolingbrook High School.