September 25, 2008
By BILL STONE
After missing the first two games of this football season, Hinsdale Central senior linebacker Mike Owens has been anxious to contribute.
"It hurts not being able to play. I really love coming out and playing football," Owens said. "Just being out here to play, it's like a gift."
When Owens got the chance Friday in the annual battle with Hinsdale South for The Doings Cup, he gave the offense a great gift with a blocked punt that energized the Red Devils in their 43-14 victory in Hinsdale. The Red Devils (3-1) lead the series 14-12 overall and have won the last seven meetings with the Hornets (1-3) -- the longest streak by either team.
Owens' blocked punt, which he fell on at the 24-yard line, set up the Red Devils' first touchdown, a 2-yard run by Eric Alexander for a 10-0 lead 11 minutes, 39 seconds before halftime. The special teams feast also included touchdowns on Rich Zajeski's 74-yard punt return for a 29-0 halftime lead and Mike Rogowski's 60-yard fumble return for a 43-0 lead with 6:37 left in the third quarter to initiate a running clock.
"I missed the sack the play before so I was thinking to myself to make up for it. We got really excited after that (block)," Owens said.
"Special teams is kind of an unsung part of football," Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo said. "We lost a playoff game to Naperville Central (in the 2006 quarterfinals) because of a breakdown on special teams. And I think the harder you work, more likely things are going to come to you. I call it the quiet way you win games.
"I feel like the more I'm at Central like every week is a rivalry, but it's always big with Hinsdale South because it's Hinsdale South. And they put a lot of emphasis on it as well. It's a lot easier to prepare when something is on the line. I think playing for The Doings Cup, a tangible item, is really cool."
The Red Devils also scored in the second quarter on a 6-yard run by quarterback John Whitelaw and Zajeski's 21-yard pass reception. The Hornets were shut out until TDs in the final 3:31 on an 8-yard pass from quarterback Rob Christenson to Karl Ploger and a 42-yard run by Darrin Kidd.
"This counts for one loss. (Making the playoffs) was the message after this," Hinsdale South coach Alex Bitto said. "We're 1-0 in conference. We've got Morton and then the rest of the schedule, and we've got lots to play for. I'm encouraging these guys to stick together and make the best of it."
The Chicago Bears-like momentum-changing plays come from spending at least 15 minutes daily on special teams. Nick Gebhart, who works with Owens as the inside linebackers coach, also is special teams coordinator.
The Red Devils' first points came on Garrett Kawa's 33-yard field goal after Brian Connor's 38-yard punt return. Mick Culligan opened the second half with an 86-yard kickoff return and scored on a 16-yard run three plays later.
Things went so well that when Owens lamented missing blocking another punt, Zajeski had his touchdown return with downfield blocking help from Owens and David Lutz.
"Mike (Owens) is playing like a man possessed right now," DiMatteo said. "We shifted his position a little bit (from defensive end) and he's having a great time playing linebacker. He's playing his heart out and he's playing fast."
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