Leyden saw a 14-point lead evaporate in the second half, but bounced back with a late score and escaped with a 27-21 victory over host Downers Grove South Friday night.
The Eagles also might have found themselves an additional featured running back when junior Aaron Whigham came in for injured starting tailback Mickey Gulo and racked up 136 yards — all but 10 in the second half — and scored on a 32-yard scoring romp. He also led the Eagles (3-1) on the game-winning drive with 47 yards on five carries to set up senior quarterback Michael Smith’s touchdown from three yards out with 3:46 left to play.
Whigham, who starts at cornerback for Leyden and was inserted into the backfield to give Gulo some rest. Gulo, who had 60 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns in the first half, suffered leg cramps and was forced to leave the game with just a minute to go in the second quarter.
Whigham took it from there.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder became the workhorse for the Eagles’ ground game and rushed for 126 yards in the second half alone, and scored his second touchdown of the season in the third to put Leyden ahead 21-7.
“Man did he do a nice job for us,” Leyden coach Tom Cerasani said. “We knew Aaron could run, but he’s also our starting cornerback, and it’s tough to play both those positions. We thought as the season went on there would be more balance between Aaron and Mickey on carries, but he really came up big tonight.
“Mickey is a tough runner and Aaron runs a little bit different with his cuts, so it’s a good combination when they are both healthy. I don’t know what would have happened in this game had it not been for Aaron. He carried us in the second half. We knew he had that ability, but he did a fantastic job of filling in.”
Whigham took full advantage of the opportunity to showcase his talents.
“When Mickey went down I was just trying to step up, and our offensive did a tremendous job,” Whigham said. “I don’t know for sure if I’ll get more carries when Mickey is healthy because I also play cornerback and they like to give me some rest to play defense. But, hopefully, Mickey will get healthy and I can go back to being the back-up for him, even though I think I like running the ball better. That’s what I did my whole sophomore year. I’m very excited that I got some carries today and made the most of them.”
Gulo scored on Leyden’s opening drive on 8-yard run and followed with a 9-yard burst up the middle to put the Eagles up 14-0.
With just under four minutes left in the final period, Downers Grove South came to life when senior Kaylon Miller returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown.
Senior quarterback Mike Zebold hooked up with Miller on a 17-yard TD pass, and a missed extra point pulled the Mustangs to within 21-13 with 10:32 to go. Zebold connected with Miller again with a 19-yard scoring strike, and his run for the 2-point conversion tied the score at 21-21 with 6:43 to play.