In a matchup of MSL West vs. Southwest Suburban teams, the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings knocked off the visiting Fremd Vikings 21-0 in the opening round of the IHSA 8A playoffs.
Senior H-F running back Leon Tanna rushed for 195 yards on 32 carries and two scores, while the defense allowed just 122 yards of total offense to a Fremd team that had amassed 865 yards its previous two contests —540 of those coming from the legs of senior running back Nick Rattin.
"We were concerned about him, no question … he's a stud." said H-F head coach Craig Buzea. "But, we've been an offensive-minded team for years and we felt like we'd put some stock into the defense and they've played well all year for us."
And they had to in the early going.
Coming into the game, H-F's offense averaged 35 points per game, but two red zone turnovers in the first half looked to prove costly. However, the defense answered the bell and kept Fremd out of the end zone.
With Rattin running the Wildcat offense to a T the final two weeks of the regular season, Fremd was hoping that formula would help them advance to the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, a key injury early in the first quarter changed all that.
"The game plan changed once we lost our fullback Brian Hardy on the fourth play of the game," said Fremd head coach Lou Sponsel. "We lost that package on offense and had to make a complete 180 of the game plan."
After Hardy's injury, Fremd's running game could not get much going the rest of the way. The H-F defense held Rattin to just 41 yards on the ground for the contest.
Still, the only difference in the game in the first half was a Tanna 11 yard TD run that came with 2:27 left in the first as the home team led 7-0 at intermission.
That advantage doubled with 4:03 left in the third quarter when Tanna hit pay dirt from 9 yards out to make it 14-0 going into the final stanza.
Midway through the quarter, Fremd tried to air it out in hopes of making a late comeback, but senior linebacker Gerrell Jackson's pick-six with 6:42 remaining all but iced it for H-F.
"We played hard and tough tonight, but didn't play good football," Sponsel said. "Going up against a physical team like that, you can't make too many mistakes and we left some plays out there on the field tonight."
With the win, H-F will play Barrington in the second round of the playoffs.
"They have a helluva team and they caught lightning in a bottle this season," said Buzea. "They knew exactly how to use their players, used their personnel great and the defense plays well, hats off to them."
A year removed from a 1-8 campaign, Sponsel's troops have brought a winning culture back to Fremd, and the program continues to be on the incline.
"Last year, we didn't have Iron Will and this year we had Iron Will," said senior defensive standout Will Josten. "There wasn't a guy on this team that didn't think we could play with them (H-F) tonight. For us to go 1-14 and then win the last 5 out of 6 regular season games, it sets a standard … there's something in this program that wasn't there before."