By Tim Cronin
Everything was humming along for Sandburg.
The Eagles offense led by sophomore quarterback Kevin Zimmer was moving the ball and staked the team to a two-touchdown lead over visiting Lockport. On the other side of the ball, their stout defense was holding the Porters in check, more often than not.
Then Lockport – a team that is much improved from last year’s squad that went 0-9 for the first time in program history – began pressuring Zimmer with its solid defense. A two-touchdown lead disappeared, the Porters went in front, and left Orland Park with a 28-21 victory that left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Eagles and the hundred-odd fans who rearranged their schedules to attend the game hours before the homecoming festivities.
The SouthWest Suburban matchup was moved to the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 28 because of the heavy thunderstorms that passed through the area the night before.
“They had a good second half and we played terrible,” Sandburg coach Scott Peters said. “They made adjustments at halftime. They were bringing more pressure. They did a better job up front on both sides of the ball.”
Peters said his play-calling became too conservative in his second half, which the Eagles entered holding a 21-7 lead. Perhaps, but Zimmer, who received comprehensive protection in the opening half, was harried to no end after the intermission as a swarming Porters’ defense took over.
“They got really aggressive in the second half,” Zimmer said of the Lockport defense. “They capitalized off that.”
So much so that Sandburg – which moved the ball 150 yards in the first half, with Zimmer scoring on a four-yard run and throwing touchdown passes to Dylan Sigel and Mike Bosco – was held to 74 yards in the second half. And 54 of those came on Sandburg’s last drive, which stalled on the Lockport 14-yeard line with 71 seconds to play.
“We felt we moved the ball pretty well in the first half up front,” Peters said. “We were too conservative and allowed them to get some momentum.”
The Eagles couldn’t contain the passing tag team of Riley Pfeiffer and Malik Makholuf in the second half. Pfeiffer completed seven passes in the half, all to Makholuf, and some of them floated against the stiff northeast wind like balloons. But Makhlouf went up and came down with them, often against double coverage.
“I just trust him to put it where it needs to be,” Makhlouf said. “If you need to, you improvise. And if they want to put double-coverage against me, they can.”
He did so perfectly against a pair of defenders with 3:11 left in the third quarter, a 19-yard collaboration that finished with Makhlouf in the end zone.
“They were throwing up some punts,” Peters said. “They were all over the place and their receivers did a better job adjusting to the ball. Our DBs did not adjust to it as well as their receivers did.”
The score cut the Sandburg lead to 21-14, and started the cascade of points that climaxed with Collin Schmutzler’s second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 26-yard burst off left tackle that saw the Eagles blocked every which way to get him loose and ended up the difference.
The outcome dropped Sandburg to 2-3, 1-1 in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Lockport, with George Czart, who made Lincoln-Way North a near-instant success in that school’s short lifetime, at the Porters’ helm for the first year, is 2-3, 1-1.
The Eagles now must ready for the league’s version of Murderer’s Row: at Homewood-Flossmoor on Friday, followed by an encounter at Bolingbrook and then at home against Lincoln-Way East.
“I’ve been going one game at a time,” Peters said. “Hey, it’s the toughest conference in the state, especially now that the [Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference] has weird divisions. Obviously, the stretch of back-to-back-to-back weeks is not anything anyone in the state would want on their schedule. We have to deal with it. Just got to keep getting better as a program.”