Westminster Christian accomplished many firsts Saturday, but its first varsity victory will have to wait until another day.
Luther North lived up to its billing as a Class 1A playoff team from last season as it rolled to a 44-26 Northeastern Athletic triumph on its home field on Chicago’s northwest side.
The 2013 opener marked the first-ever varsity game for the visiting Warriors, and they left a positive first impression by fighting to the finish and scoring three touchdowns in the final 7:22 of the fourth quarter.
In the end, Luther North’s effective ground game was simply too much for Westminster to handle. Junior Felix Loja racked up 173 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats, but after the game, the prevailing opinion was that a young Warriors team with only four seniors on its roster isn’t far off from contending.
“(Westminster) came out hard and hit hard,” Loja said. “It’s a good start for us but we still need some work.”
Added Luther North coach Ricky Ludwig: “(Westminster’s) technique was much improved. I thought coming in they were a year away from being able to compete in the conference, but now I think they’ll be able to win a couple games this year for sure.”
Luther North took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 15 plays as Jeremy Jensen’s 9-yard touchdown run capped a 7:50 possession. During the drive, the Wildcats drew Westminster offside on a fourth-and-2 and also converted a third-and-13.
A pair of long touchdown runs from Loja gave Luther North a 22-0 advantage in the second quarter, but the Warriors managed to narrow the gap on the final play of the first half.
A 46-yard completion from junior quarterback Max Tucker to freshman Scott Graziano with time winding down in the second quarter set Westminster up with a first-and-goal. Two plays later, Tucker rolled to his right and tossed a 2-yard pass to senior William Rathjen as time expired for the program’s first varsity touchdown, making the score 22-6 at the break.
“I knew Max was going to throw it to me right away,” Rathjen said. “I just tucked it and hoped for the best.”
Luther North ended any chance of a storybook comeback in the second half as it got three unanswered touchdowns from Sylvester Pydych, Anthony Vega and Dane Carter to open a 44-6 lead with 11:10 remaining.
The Warriors not only avoided a running clock but also made the final score respectable with touchdown runs of 65 yards and 34 yards from senior DeShawn Bloom and a 43-yard scoring strike from Tucker to Graziano on the final play of the game.
Bloom finished with 138 yards on 14 carries, Tucker completed 16-of-34 passes for 208 yards and 6-foot-6 freshman Isaac Hawn was a force on defense, racking up several tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“I was pumped coming into this game,” Bloom said. “I didn’t care what the outcome was as long as we played hard and did our best.”
Added Westminster coach John Davis: “To put up 26 points against a state playoff team and to strike before the half in our first game in history, I’d say it was a solid start.”
LUTHER NORTH 44, WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN 26
WC 0 6 0 20 – 26
LN 8 14 14 8 – 44
LN — Jensen 9 run (Hoffman run), 4:10
LN — Loja 29 run (pass failed), 11:50
LN — Loja 34 run (Vega run), 7:47
WC — Rathjen 2 pass from Tucker (run failed), 0:00
LN — Pydych 38 run (run failed), 8:44
LN — Vega 11 run (Clark pass from Hoffman), 5:28
LN — Carter 4 fumble recovery (Loja run), 11:10
WC — Bloom 65 run (Sanders kick), 7:22
WC — Bloom 34 run (Sanders kick), 2:59
WC — Graziano 43 pass from Tucker (no attempt), 0:00
WC — Bloom 14-138, Rathjen 3-26, Graziano 1-(-4), Tucker 5-(-14). Totals 23-146.
LN — Loja 17-173, Carter 7-59, Pydych 2-52, Jensen 7-41, Vega 8-27, Hoffman 5-22, Anton 4-19,Wenzel 4-19, Grober 2-2, Griffin 1-(-4), Wieckowski 4-(-7). Totals 51-396.
WC — Tucker 16-34-2208, DeHaan 1-2-0 9. Totals 17-36-2 217.
LN — Hoffman 1-3-0 9.
WC — Graziano 4-101, Bloom 5-67, DeHaan 3-28, Rathjen 2-16, Albrecht2-5, Anderson 1-3.
LN — Pyrych 1-9.