The Acorn’s High School Football Game of the Week

Grace Brethren Lancers (4-2) vs. Oak Park Eagles (3-2)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Oak Park High School


FREE FALLIN’—Oak Park High’s Hunter Lee, No. 70, tackles Nordhoff’s Korey Stevens during the Eagles’ 22-18 win at homecoming on Oct. 6. Lee is a Division I prospect with multiple scholarship offers. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers

FREE FALLIN’—Oak Park High’s Hunter Lee, No. 70, tackles Nordhoff’s Korey Stevens during the Eagles’ 22-18 win at homecoming on Oct. 6. Lee is a Division I prospect with multiple scholarship offers. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers

Cole McCreary and Casey Webb sat in the coach’s office.

The lights were off, the air conditioner hummed and game film flickered on the wall.

McCreary, Oak Park’s quarterback, and Webb, the team’s head coach, were hunkered down investigating the tape. Jon Gruden, the Thucydides of the Telestrator, was allegedly preoccupied, chasing squirrels in Chicago’s Grant Park.

 

 

McCreary, a first-year varsity starter, is settling into his role with the Eagles. He’s coming off arguably the biggest game of his young prep career, a 22-18 win against previously undefeated Nordhoff. The junior completed 14 of 23 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’re clicking on offense and defense,” the quarterback said. “The momentum from the win is picking up our spirits.”

Oak Park wraps up its non-league slate against Grace Brethren, which features a defense more ferocious than Conan the Barbarian . . . and an offense with the firepower of a whoopee cushion.

McCreary has made strides improving reads and recognizing coverages.

“His decision-making is getting better,” Webb said of his quarterback. “He’s just getting better, which is nice to see.”

McCreary suited up at wide receiver as a freshman. In 2016, he started at quarterback for a junior varsity squad that captured a Canyon League title and finished 9-1 overall. The honors student—he’s taking Advanced Placement classes in Spanish, U.S. history and calculus—is also active in student government.

He threw his first touchdown strike against Nordhoff to senior slot receiver Zack Kariya, who hauled in a 19-yard touchdown in the final minutes of a previously scoreless first half.

Kariya, who starts at receiver and cornerback, credited fellow cornerback Ben Rubenfeld with delivering clutch plays at the end of the game. Rubenfeld defended two of the final three throws in the red zone, including a fourth-down lob, to preserve an Eagle victory last weekend.

“We really pulled together at the end,” Kariya said. “It was a team effort.”

Webb echoed those sentiments.

“Ben came up with two big plays,” the coach said. “Our defense has done a wonderful job.”

Kariya, a center fielder for the baseball team, sports a 4.1 grade-point average. The honors student, who wants to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, would like to be a high school English teacher. His favorite book is an American classic, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau.

Luka Sarac, a defensive end, is an unsung hero on Oak Park’s underrated defense. He was promoted to varsity from the JV squad on Sept. 8.

“Being pulled up to varsity is an honor,” the sophomore said. “It feels awesome.”

Sarac, a sprinter on the track and field team who has a 3.5 GPA, plays for the name on the front of his jersey.

“We play for each other,” he said. “We play for our school and our town.”

Defensive linemen Sean Mackinnon (two sacks against Nordhoff) and John Flynn, and linebackers Keith Mowatt (12 tackles against Nordhoff) and Nick Catania fortify the defense.

Michael Holcomb, a sophomore receiver and safety, is the team’s best all-around player, the coach said. Right guard Nick Demirjian and sophomore center Joey Coulter boost the offensive line.

Running back Connor Vlassis (122 rushing yards against Nordhoff) has filled in nicely for Bryce Hardy, who’s expected to miss five weeks with an injury. Hardy wants to return for the Kanan Bowl against Agoura on Nov. 3.

“ We’re getting better each week,” Webb said. “We haven’t put together a complete game yet, but we’re getting there.”