Oswego coach Brian Cooney has been focusing on his defense improving in the red zone all season.
Lo and behold, with the season on the line in Friday’s Class 7A first-round game against familiar Southwest Prairie Conference foe Plainfield North, it all came down to defense in the red zone.
The Tigers had four shots to tie the game from the Oswego five-yard line in the waning seconds, but the Panthers turned them all away to hold on for a thrilling 28-21 win. That sets the third-seeded Panthers up with top-seeded Benet at Benedictine University in the second round next week.
“How ironic that it comes down to our playoff lives and they step up,” Cooney said. “We had confidence in our defense.”
Plainfield North (7-3) recovered from a 28-7 deficit to cut the lead to one score and then recovered the onside kick with 1:10 left to have a shot to tie the game. A 30-yard pass from Kurt Palendech to Matt Welch gave the Tigers first-and-goal at the five.
Four straight incomplete passes followed. Jamaal Richardson nearly intercepted the first-down pass. On third down, Plainfield North was flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield, but Cooney declined the penalty, setting up one play to decide the game. Palendech’s pass to Brock Thoms was caught, but he was ruled out of bounds, giving the Panthers their second win over Plainfield North in the past month.
“I knew that I just had to play my assignment,” said Oswego senior Elliot McGaughy, who defended the final play in one-on-one coverage. “I knew my teammates were going to play their assignments. We just got the job done.”
Plainfield North had an impressive opening drive capped by an eight-yard Jay Roberts touchdown run, but was stymied until the fourth quarter. In that span, Oswego (9-1) scored 28 unanswered points. The first three touchdowns came on Brett Wainwright passes to Jack Kwiatkowski. The first of those scores came a play after Kwiatkowski blocked a Plainfield North punt.
When Mickeel Stewart broke a 30-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, it appeared Oswego was in control. To that point of the game, Palendech was 1-for-9 passing for 21 yards and an interception. But he exploded from there to keep the Tigers in the game. He threw for 197 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 67-yard touchdown to Welch and a six-yarder to Thoms.
But in the end, Oswego was able to hold on to advance.
“We’ll do what we always do,” Cooney said. “We’ll get the tapes that we can get and get the scouting report from the guys that were there, we’ll prep and we’ll go out there and give it our best.”