Steven Frank’s role for half the season was essentially being a motivational speaker.
“I felt [even though] I might sit out, I need to do a part,” said Oswego’s junior quarterback, who was sidelined from Week 3 to Week 8 with a broken left fibula. “So I cheered everyone on as well as I could. I became a cheerleader for the team.”
The Panthers kept rolling without him, winning another Southwest Prairie title. But having the 6-4, 217-pounder on the field is clearly the preferred option for Oswego — especially when he’s throwing to Zach West.
The pair teamed up for a pair of touchdown passes Saturday night and No. 20 Oswego turned blocked punts into two more scores en route to a 31-7 win in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.
Oswego (9-1) plays at Bolingbrook — a 35-0 winner over Bloom on Saturday — in next weekend’s second round.
Frank was 11-of-19 passing for 153 yards in his third game back from the injury, which is fading into memory.
“I think I am back to 100 percent,” he said. “On Monday, I was feeling pretty good and I started to run. I wasn’t doing too many sprints or anything [before].”
With Bolingbrook and its defense loaded with Division I recruits looming, it’s key for Oswego to have as many offensive options as possible.
“We still have a couple things in our package we haven’t allowed him to do [since] before the injury,” Panthers coach Brian Cooney said.
“[But when] you’re in Week 11, you’ve got to open it back up. We’re going to have to do everything we can against a tough Bolingbrook team.”
The Panthers do have other ways of moving the football. Connor Cavins ran nine times for 71 yards and a touchdown, while Treshon Weddington had 12 rushes for 60 yards and a TD. Cavins is glad to have Frank back on the field.
“It definitely opens up the running game,” he said. “We can get a lot more accomplished.”
The Panthers also did that on special teams. A blocked punt on Joliet West’s first possession set up Cavins’ 2-yard TD run on the next play, with 10:43 left in the first quarter.
Another block on the Tigers’ first punt of the second half gave Oswego another short field and Weddington scored from 5 yards out to make it 31-7 with 8:54 left in the third quarter.
“I don’t know where those came from, but I liked them,” Cooney said. “Coach [Ben] Wilson, who’s our special teams coordinator, told us this week we’re going going to get one. He’s been saying that Week 1 through 9. Tonight he was right.”
Frank’s two touchdown passes to West, for 18 and 9 yards, came between the blocked punts and helped pad the lead. Brice Robinson added a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Joliet West (5-5) showed some life on offense in the first quarter, getting an 8-yard touchdown pass from Alex Tibble to Kyle Henderson to tie it 7-7 with 46.6 seconds left.
But Tibble left the game with a left ankle injury soon after and didn’t return.
“The Tibble kid is an unbelievable athlete,” Cooney said. “Any team we play, we want to beat them with their best on the field. It was sad to see that kid go down. I know what a competitor he is.”