Zajeski steps up as Devils regain Bucket

5 minute read

October 4, 2007

As long as Hinsdale Central junior Rich Zajeski is on the football field this season, don't expect to hear any complaints coming out of his mouth.

Zajeski, who is the team's No. 2 running back and a key special teams performer, has been pressed into defensive duties and has responded well to the change.

"This being my first year (on varsity), I'm just happy to get some playing time," Zajeski said. "On offense, I wasn't the starting running back so however I can get playing time is fine with me. I just want to help out."

Zajeski helped out plenty Saturday to spark Hinsdale Central's 21-6 West Suburban Conference Silver Division homecoming victory over Downers Grove North in the annual battle for the Old Oaken Bucket.

Zajeski's biggest contribution of the day came in the first quarter. The Downers North punter couldn't handle the snap and rushed a kick that was partially-blocked by the Red Devils and Zajeski caught the ball in the air and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown to put Hinsdale Central ahead 7-0 following the point-after kick by Todd Klepacki 5 minutes, 24 seconds into the game.

"I was just at the right place at the right time," said Zajeski, who started at cornerback. "I just looked up, the ball was on me and the second it was in my hands, I was thinking touchdown all the way. My guys made some good blocks and I felt I had the speed to go all the way and get some good momentum going. Any time you score a touchdown, it's a unique feeling, but to score one like that was great."

Hinsdale Central (5-1, 3-0 in Silver) increased its lead to 14-0 by halftime and 21-0 heading into the fourth quarter.

The win ended a two-game skid in the Bucket rivalry by the Red Devils, who increased their all-time series record to 38-33-3.

"This has been one of our goals since the beginning of the season. We wanted to get the bucket back for all the guys that have come before us the last couple years and all the guys that have been our mentors," said senior linebacker Kyle Larkin, who was one of the defensive standouts Saturday. "We wanted to get a little revenge for those guys."

The victory also likely locked up a playoff berth for the Red Devils, who have won five straight after opening the season with a 20-6 loss to highly-ranked Wheaton Warrenville South, which is 6-0.

"We're playoff eligible a lot earlier than last year, so it means a lot," Larkin said. "We're on a really good roll now. After the Wheaton South loss we really came together and it feels great to be 5-1, but we want a lot more."

Hinsdale Central increased its lead to 14-0 in the second quarter when Billy Auriemma punched the ball into the end zone from the 1 to cap a 10-play drive with 1:41 left in the half. The Red Devils jumped ahead 21-0 with 5:17 left in the third quarter when Troy Laing caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Whitelaw one play after a holding penalty negated a 13-yard TD run by Laing.

Downers North (1-5, 0-3 in Silver) spoiled the Red Devils' shutout attempt when Arthur Gutzke caught a 10-yard TD pass from Thomas Benton with 1:48 left in the game. Allan Cameron blocked the point-after kick.

Hinsdale Central's defense allowed just 148 yards of total offense, which proved big considering the Red Devils managed just 155 yards of total offense themselves.

"The defense played well, but unfortunately our offense didn't help us out much," Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo said. "We knew it was going to come down to a defensive struggle at some point and our guys did a great job."

Larkin, Cameron, Pat Clegg and Mike Owens contributed to sacks, while Nick Chenier was one of the team's leading tacklers, including stuffing a run on a fourth-and-two play in the second quarter, and Brendan Sullivan recovered a fumble that eventually led to the Red Devils' second-quarter score.

Zajeski helped seal the victory when he recovered an onside kick following the Trojans' TD and later lunged to knock the ball out of harm's way on a long pass play in the final minute.

"Everything we do is team," DiMatteo said. "We call ourselves the 'No-names' because we don't have any stars on our team, but they play really well together and are willing to do whatever it takes to win. I asked Richie (Zajeski), 'Hey, I'm thinking about moving you (to cornerback), what do you think?' He said, 'Coach, anything you need to help our team. I don't care.' I'm really proud of him and we're fortunate to have a kid like him."

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