VILLA PARK — Hinsdale South coach Mike Barry knew this could be a special team, particularly on defense.
Heading into the season, such confidence might have been met with skepticism considering the Hornets gave up 28-plus points in each of their first three games in 2013.
It is that defense, however, that has keyed only the second 3-0 start in the program’s last 10 years after Hinsdale South defeated Willowbrook 40-20 on Friday night in its first road game of the season. The Hornets capitalized on six turnovers by the Warriors and provided excellent starting position for the offense all night.
“Obviously shutting down Downers North (6-0 on Sept. 5) was an indicator and tonight was another indicator they are coming together,” Barry said of the defense. “The biggest thing was the offseason. The offseason is where we teach our toughness and our discipline. Finally we’re at the point in our program where we know what we’re getting.”
That discipline was on display Friday as the Hornets forced four turnovers in the first half, including three interceptions of junior quarterback Billy Degnan, who a week earlier had passed for 355 yards and two touchdowns against Lyons. Hinsdale South turned two of those turnovers into 14 points, with junior running back Marcus Curry barreling 80 yards for the score on the Hornets’ second offensive play after an interception in the end zone.
Seniors Jawahn Downing and Erik Anderson and junior Robert Hall each had interceptions in the first half, while junior lineman Jawaun Parker stripped Degnan at the Warriors’ 5-yard line, setting up senior quarterback Robbie Regan’s one-yard keeper that gave Hinsdale South a 14-0 lead.
“We have so much more confidence on offense when the defense is playing well, especially when they are forcing the ball over four or five times a game,” said Regan, who had four touchdowns, including two rushing. “It gets the momentum on our side.”
Despite the big first half on defense, it was two critical plays in the second that ended up making the difference after Willowbrook rallied to tie the game at 20 in the third quarter when the Warriors returned a Curry fumble 50 yards for a touchdown.
Playing in less-than-ideal conditions with a game-time temperature of 46 degrees and light rain falling, the Hornets went 3-and-out on their next posession after the tying score. But the defense struck again with Hall earning his second pick of the night and returning it 25 yards for the score.
A fumble by Willowbrook, recovered by senior linebacker Chase Koziol led to another score.
“Oh my God it was awesome,” senior linebacker Jake Hynek said. “We were just flying around out there. We had some adversity thrown at us, but we battled through as a team and a unit as we have all year.”
While the defense took advantage of the sloppy weather, it took its toll on the other side of the ball, with Regan nursing ice on his right thigh and Curry limping off the field late in the game with a right ankle injury. Barry said both players were fine.