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Joliet West defensive back Jorge Guzman knocks the ball away from the Joliet Central reciever. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
The first quarter of Saturday’s District 204 and SouthWest Suburban Blue match-up at Joliet West was spent in the Tigers’ territory.
The fact that Jacob Plevell’s 29-yard field goal late in the second quarter represented the only points Joliet Central could muster underscored two telling points.
First, the Steelmen continue to struggled offensively. And second, the West defense had plenty to do with how badly the Steelmen offense functioned.
Junior Jordan Brown broke loose for 41- and 28-yard touchdown runs and finished with 135 yards in 10 carries as West secured a much-needed 21-3 victory.
“The bottom line is that it’s a win, but we’re not happy with the way we got there,” said West coach Jason Aubry, whose Tigers (2-3, 1-2) were whistled for 10 penalties covering 97 yards, including five for 58 in the first quarter, when they also lost two fumbles.
“It’s just tough for our offense to come back from the situations we were in. We want to be second-and-7, second-and 6. When we’re second-and-15, it’s hard to call plays for that.”
Especially when the Tigers were going against a defense from Central (0-5, 0-3) that has performed above and beyond the call.
“Before the season, I said I believed our defense would be our strong suit,” Steelmen coach Brett Boyter said. “It absolutely has blown away my expectations. I feel terrible that our offense is not holding up their end. We should have had two touchdowns in the first half instead of three points.
“I’d be interested to see how our defense would play if they have a two-touchdown lead some day.”
West led 8-3 at half after Brown’s 41-yard scamper early in the second quarter, and it remained a one-score game until Brown exploded for his 28-yard touchdown run with 4:59 left, on the play following Jake Ralson’s recovery of a fumbled punt. Korey Rogers carried seven straight plays and scored the final touchdown with 1:32 left.
“We started very slow, but when we got going, it all started up front with the offensive line,” Brown said. “This should build up our confidence. We’ve been in a slump, but we think we can go on a big roll now.”
Rogers rushed for 48 yards and Kameron Hargrove for 46 as West managed 248 on the ground and 25 passing.
Central’s Sylvester Bellamy gained 89 of his 99 yards in the second half, but otherwise, the Steelmen were minus-40 on the ground as the Tigers’ defensive front, led by senior end Justin Jackson, helped produce 17 negative plays on the Central ledger.
Junior Landriel Hart, who injured a knee returning a kickoff in the fourth quarter, quarterbacked Central for three quarters before senior starter Carlos Curry was inserted at the start of the fourth. Curry did not practice during the week because he suffered a concussion last week and was just cleared to play Saturday.
Early in the second quarter, Steelmen linebacker Seneca Roper intercepted a pass in the flat at midfield and appeared headed for a tying touchdown. But Brown hustled and caught Roper at the West 18. The Steelmen moved to a first-and-goal at the 3, but Jackson recorded a six-yard tackle for loss, then disrupted the next play, allowing linebacker Alex Lakatos to clean up for a three-yard loss.
That was the golden opportunity that ended with Plevell’s field goal.
“That’s the story of our season sometime,” Boyter said. “Two steps forward and two back. Things only work when everyone is doing his job. A wrong assignment on any play wreaks havoc.”