SKOKIE — A loss to Maine South at home on Friday night did nothing to undermine the Niles West football team’s confidence. Instead, the Wolves took another step in finding out how good they can be.
“It was a tough test for us, but we showed we can compete with one of the best teams in the state,” said junior quarterback Tommy Galanopoulos, who threw two touchdown passes to senior Andrew Mihulet. “We all played hard, all played for 48 minutes.”
Coach Scott Baum didn’t want to talk about moral victories, but he said the 35-20 defeat wasn’t a bad loss. After all, the Hawks have won 63 consecutive games in the CSL South since 2000.
“Our kids learned they are a good football team,” Baum said. “We left that game in good spirits. That was good for the kids. They were excited to get back to practice. They were ready to practice that night.”
Niles West (6-1 overall, 2-1 conference) goes for its seventh win — the most since 2002 — when it travels to New Trier (3-3, 1-2) on Friday. While the Wolves are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, the Trevians need to win their final two games to become eligible.
“They are New Trier,” Baum said of a program that has been to the postseason 10 seasons in a row. “They are big and physical. They were hit by the injury bug earlier this year, which could explain the record.”
Baum is looking for his first win after four losses against the Trevians since he took over in 2009. He said he believes the Wolves are equipped to end that streak.
“Offensively, we have a number of guys who can make plays,” he said. “That’s a big difference from years past, including last year. Defensively, they are buying into the system and really flying around to the football.”
Last season, the Wolves relied heavily on Jeremiah Jordan, a 2013 graduate who played receiver and defensive back. Now, Galanopoulos has as many as six players to turn to on offense.
Mihulet, senior receiver Garrett Iverson, senior running back Nick Johnson, junior running back Jeremy Pignato, junior receiver Quran Spillman and junior running back Brandon Costantino all are capable of game-breaking plays.
Mihulet led the Wolves against Maine South with six receptions for 60 yards, while Iverson also caught six balls. Spillman finished with five catches.
Defensively, Mihulet has been a star at cornerback. He had three interceptions Friday, and he owns the program record with nine in his career.
Senior linebacker Isaac Reinemann and junior linebacker Adam Pignato, Jeremy’s twin brother, also have been major contributors.
“Everybody is pushing everybody else in practice,” Baum said. “That’s showing up in games.”
Galanopoulos said the Wolves are eager to return to the field.
“Coming off a game like that, so many players thought they could have done more and played better,” Galanopoulos said. “That is what will motivate us over the next two weeks.”