Jackson Gray never returned a kick before Friday night. Now the Wheaton North junior might not see another football kicked his way the rest of the season.
Gray’s game-breaking returns and Sam Singleton’s 4 touchdown runs propelled the Falcons to a 36-21 DuPage Valley Conference victory over visiting Wheaton Warrenville South.
After dropping its season openers the last two years — and starting a combined 0-5 — Friday’s cross-town win was a welcome sight on the north side of town. “It feels awesome,” Singleton said. “South week is great, and we’ve got to win that, but it’s all about the whole season. It’s about keeping the momentum up and winning each and every week, and giving everything we have every week.”
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WW South (0-1, 0-1) seemed in control after taking a 14-6 second-quarter lead on the second touchdown run of the game from Luke Foster, who had 14 carries for 54 yards. With under two minutes to play in the first half, though, Gray flipped the momentum with the first of his electrifying returns.
Gray ran the ball down to the 8-yard line, and Singleton scored from a yard out two plays later. Wheaton North (1-0, 1-0) still trailed 14-12 at the half because of a pair of failed conversions, but the action definitely trended the Falcons’ way at the break. “I’ve never returned kicks before so I was a little nervous before the game,” Gray said. “But everybody on our return team did their job and all I had to do was just run straight down the field.”
Gray started the second half with a return to the Tigers’ 17, field position that led to a 30-yard field goal from Trenton Hegranes to give the Falcons the lead for good at 15-14. Wheaton North scored 16 straight points, including a 1-yard touchdown dive by quarterback Luke Anthony, to build a 22-14 third-quarter lead.
“Three kickoff returns, I think that’s a big difference in the football game,” said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. “It just really hurt us. Credit to them.” Tigers receiver Cam Moore, who had 6 catches for 121 yards, threw a 43-yard option touchdown pass to Ashton Jones to narrow the gap to 22-21, but Singleton scored twice in the fourth quarter to seal the Falcons’ win. Singleton, who ran the ball 10 straight times on the Falcons’ final scoring drive, had 25 carries for 134 yards. Anthony threw for 143 yards while Tigers quarterback Matt Dohse threw for 181. “Our special teams were really good tonight, the kickoff returns were huge for us,” said Falcons coach Joe Wardynski. “That was probably the difference in the game for us. All in all it was a good first week effort.”
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