WEST CHICAGO — Bishop McNamara headed into Thursday’s road meeting at Wheaton Academy on just five days of rest, after two losses by a combined seven points decided with less than 30 seconds left and as time expired, and did so with about 20 percent of their 23-man roster out with injuries.
For senior running back and linebacker Owen Jackson, the Irish had to come into Thursday’s matchup with a mindset reminiscent of a Nike commercial.
“Don’t think about it, just do it,” Jackson said. “Just do it and run.”
And Jackson did just that, as he piled up 112 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to lead the Irish to a 28-7 victory over the Warriors at Performance Trust Field in West Chicago.
The win evened the Irish back up both overall and in the Metro Suburban Conference at 3-3 and 2-2, respectively, and the Warriors fell to 3-3 (1-3).
“We were 3 seconds away from being 4-1 coming into tonight and we’ve been talking about that, we think we’re a pretty good football team,” Irish coach Rich Zinanni said. “We had to come up here and make a statement with our win, and I think we did that.”
The Irish quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first on a five-yard score from Jackson and a 17-yard connection between quarterback Tyler Hiller and receiver Manny Harris.
As for how the Irish were able to get into the red zone and find paydirt on each possession, that was thanks to the play of sophomore Colton Provost. The wide receiver and cornerback didn’t play football until this year, and because of the rampant injuries the Irish are dealing with, had to make his first-ever varsity start on Thursday.
On each of the Irish’s first two scoring possessions, Provost was the weapon that caught Hiller’s eye on a pair of pivotal third downs, with one conversion coming via a 34-yard pitch and catch and the other on a 23-yard connection.
Provost said the rapid learning curve from football newcomer to varsity contributor in just a six month span has been steep, but said his teammates helped make the transition as seamless as can be.
“It’s a lot tougher than JV and a lot more work,” Provost said. “The whole team was hyping me up and letting me know what to do.”
Defensively, the Irish bent but hardly ever broke Thursday. The Warriors had 11 plays go for at least five yards in the first half, but didn’t find themselves in the red zone until their last possession of the third quarter, thanks in large part to an interception in the endzone from Braden Smith and another at the Irish 20-yard line from Hiller.
“I thought defensively, we played really well,” Zinanni said. “We gave them a lot of little short passes and things like that, but not much big stuff.”
Hiller, who served as a defensive back in very rare situations the past two years, has seen his role in the secondary increase in recent weeks as the Irish have had to employ nearly every healthy body on both sides of the ball.
“We have 23 guys on this team and 16 of them going both ways,” Hiller said. “We had to break it down to the kids that our coaches thought could go both ways. (The coaches) put faith in people we thought can go both ways and let it ride.”
Hiller also stayed rolling at quarterback. He only completed 8-of-15 attempts, but put up 181 yards and a touchdown to achieve a gaudy 12.07 yards-per-attempt mark Thursday, something he felt coming before the game started.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Hiller said. “When coach (Zinanni) said we’d have to throw the ball, I just knew I had to start slinging.”
Jackson’s second score of the game was from 10 yards out just before the end of the first half and his third score of the game came on a 47-yard breakaway score to ice the game halfway through the fourth. Backup Warriors quarterback Shane Baumgarten scored from seven yards out in the game’s final seconds.
Hiller added 29 rushing yards to his 181 passing yards. Harris had 10 rushes for 43 yards and two catches for 36 yards, one of them his touchdown catch. Damien Thornton had 18 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards. Provost was the leading Irish receiver with 57 yards, and Caleb Magruder had a 31-yard reception.
The Irish will have an extra day to prepare before next Friday’s home tilt against Aurora Christian at 7 p.m.