By Randy Whalen
For the Bugle
One moment it looked like the game would at least be tied. The next moment there was no catching the Lockport Township football team.
Gabriel Amegatcher returned a fumble 95-yards for the clinching touchdown as the Porters held off Downers Grove North for a 14-0 victory in the season opening game for both teams on Friday, Aug. 25 at Lockport.
The second straight season opening win is also a good sign as Lockport is now 5-4 against the Trojans in the past nine openers. Each other year the Porters have won that matchup with Downers North they have made the playoffs.
It was also the first time the Porters (1-0) have registered a shutout in the season opener since they blanked Chicago Vocational 26-0 to kick off the 2007 season.
“This was just a great team win and a great team effort,” Lockport coach Dan Starkey said. “We did a lot of things well. The team put in the time and effort in the offseason workouts and I’m so happy that these kids got rewarded.”
But last week’s outcome was certainly in doubt until the final minutes. Starting at their own 11, the Trojans drove to the Lockport six yard line. From there they faced a third-and-one and their 13th play of the drive proved unlucky for them. That’s because senior quarterback Jack Carr rolled to his left and proceed to lose the ball on a possible pitch out. The ball went forward a couple of yards and took a perfect bounce to Amegatcher, and the senior defensive back sprinted 95 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown with 2:10 left in the game.
“I think the quarterback was trying to pitch the ball, but he lost it and it took a perfect bounce right to me,” Amegatcher said. “I just grabbed it and started running down the sideline as fast as I could. I’ve seen that happen before and then the guy [who recovers the fumble] gets caught. So all I kept thinking was ‘don’t get caught, don’t get caught.’
“It was the first time I’ve ever scored a touchdown on defense. it was a good win. We just kept holding them all night. We had good coverage and the defensive line held them.”
That was definitely a game changer.
“A scoop and score,” Starkey said of Amegatcher’s play. “As a defensive coach, that’s what you dream about.”
Downers coach John Wander, who guided the Trojans to the 2004 Class 8A state championship, was dreaming about what could have been. But it wasn’t to be for his team.
“I was thinking about whether or not we’d go for the win or the tie,” said Wander, believing his team would score a TD in the final minutes of regulation. “But then the ball just popped-up [on the fumble], it was a fluke. But that’s what I get for thinking ahead. Bad things happened.”
Downers Grove North (0-1) reached the Porter 42 on the opening possession of the season, but had to punt and the ball was downed at the Lockport three. From there the Porters embarked on a 97-yard, 15 play drive that took 6:20 off the clock. The march was aided by a pair of personal foul penalties on the Trojans, including one that nullified a Lockport punt from its own 19.
Junior quarterback Jake Karli (4-for-9, 25 yards passing) had the longest play of the drive, a 16-yard run. Senior running back Tavares Moore, who carried the ball eight times in the drive, capped it off by diving in from a yard out with 1:32 left in the first quarter. Junior Ryan Barth added the extra point kick.
Moore, who gained more than 1,200 yards last year, finished with 25 carries for 88 yards. He would have had over 100 yards, but lost 18 yards on a play early in the fourth quarter. Because of the penalties the Porters had 67 total yards in offense on their opening drive. That was more than half of the 132 total yards they had in the game.
Downers North had 231 total yards with 67 of those coming on the ensuing drive after the Porter touchdown. That’s when the Trojans drove for a first and goal at the Lockport seven. But Carr (9-of-17 passing for 89 yards, 15 carries – 59 yards) lost two yards on a first down play and his next two passes were both broken up by senior defensive back Tim Surin.
“After the first one I was pretty pumped up,” said Surin, who broke up a trio of passes total on that drive. “We always practice that goal line scenario, so I was ready when the ball came my way. We wanted to make a play and get momentum. Defensively we looked good. It’s fun playing and I was ready.”
When the march, which took 6:08 off the clock, stalled the Trojans tried a 26-yard field goal. But the 13th play of that drive was also unlucky for them as senior Benjamin Johnson saw his kick fall short and drift to the right with 7:24 left in the first half.
“We had a few mistakes, the same as last year,” said Wander, who’s team lost to Lockport 20-9 in last season’s opening game. “[Lockport] is a good football team and we gave them first downs with those penalties. Our kids fought hard, but we shot ourselves in the foot. I’m a little disappointed.”
Senior running back Drew Shelly finished with 16 carries for 65 yards for the Trojans.
Lockport got to the Trojan 29 early in the fourth quarter, but Moore lost the 18 yards shortly thereafter and the Porters had to punt. The Trojans held the ball for over seven minutes before Amegatcher was in the right place at the right time for the huge touchdown return.
Senior linebacker Austin Hoffman added an interception for Lockport with 1:46 to play in the game to clinch the win. Junior linebacker Will Cichowski also had a fumble recovery at his own 43 with 3:49 to play in the third quarter. The fumble was forced by senior defensive end Haleem Ajibola, who was in on numerous tackles throughout the evening.
“Haleem had a lot of tackles and stuffed the run,” Starkey said. “We have 40 seniors out here and a lot of senior leadership that showed.”
The Porters hope to start 2-0 for the second straight season when they travel to South Elgin on Saturday, Sept. 2 with the varsity game slated for 1:30 p.m. Downers North will try to rebound when it hosts Leyden on Friday, Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m.