By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The first two weeks of the season saw teams try to beat the Boylan Titans with speed. And Rockford Auburn and Rockton Hononegah almost pulled it off.
The Machesney Park Harlem Huskies presented a different challenge. They were bigger and stronger in most places on the field, with a massive offensive line and big running backs.
But for Boylan and Zachary Matthews, size was not an issue. This was a game that saw a lot of hard hitting, and when it was all said and done, the Titans were again victorious, winning 42-28 and extending their conference winning streak to 68 games.
“We knew they were big and that they had size on them,” Matthews said. “We knew their backs would be big. It was a big priority of ours to shut them down.”
Matthews was key in shutting them down. Matthews, who is big for a linebacker, played even bigger than his size, firing in to the gaps and dishing out hits you could hear on every collision he had.
Boylan was confident in their offensive game plan, but for them to defeat Harlem, Matthews said the defense would be the key to winning the game.
“We just wanted to execute our plan and get it done,” he said of their defensive effort. “We knew they were going to come out and play us hard, like every game. We knew they would play us as hard as any team would.”
While Matthews was frustrating the defense, Demry Croft was busy running the offense. The junior was making his first start at quarterback, after the coaching staff decided to make the shift from sharing duties with Brock Stull to giving Croft all the snaps.
And Croft played excellent, throwing two early touchdown passes as well as scoring on a great 57-yard touchdown run to give Boylan the lead at halftime. Croft has given the Titans a much more explosive offense than what they showed for six quarters before making the switch in the second half of the Hononegah game.
“He brings versatility,” Matthews said of Croft. “He came in when we had an injury on one of our weapons. Demry has been a great guy coming in at quarterback.”
After the Huskies’ defense had worn themselves out chasing Croft around for three quarters, it was time for Matthews to play the other side of the ball and ice the game for Boylan.
Matthews had two long touchdown runs in the fourth quarter while Boylan was trying to run clock and ice the game. He helped extend the lead from 28-21 to 42-21, ensuring the Boylan victory.
Matthews showed off great athleticism on his touchdown runs. Typically, Matthews is a bruising back in the middle when he plays offense. But with the Harlem defense loading up between the tackles, Matthews took his runs outside and outran the Huskies’ defense.
“I saw them collapse all in, trying to stop it inside,” he said. “It was an easy bounce out for me.”
Boylan has several tough games left as they look for another NIC-10 crown. Rockford Guilford is 3-0 and has yet to allow a point this season. Belvidere North is sitting at 2-1 coming off wins over Auburn and Hononegah.
But Matthews and the Titans are happy to be through as rough of a three-game stretch as you could find to start off a season.
“It feels great,” he said of the 3-0 start. “We knew these were going to be the three hardest games we could have. We go week by week, and try to get ready for whatever opponent is next.”
From the Sept. 18-24, 2013, issue