Joey Pope, Glenbard West’s top running back, was on the sideline Saturday afternoon, still recovering from an appendectomy three weeks ago.
But not to worry for Hilltoppers, who still had junior Julius Ellens to run behind their big, experienced offensive line.
Ellens scored four touchdowns as No. 7 Glenbard West built a big early lead and hung on for dear life to pull out a 33-31 win over No. 12 Marist in Chicago.
Ellens ran 22 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns, and caught three passes for 108 yards and two more TDs. Marcello Diomede, who will be a preferred walk-on at Notre Dame, booted a pair of field goals for the Hilltoppers.
Ellens’ fourth score, a 70-yard catch and run from Korey Tai with 1:35 left in the second quarter, was the last TD for Glenbard West, which led 21-0 less than 4 1/2 minutes into the game.
“I had to step up and be the next RB1,” Ellens said. “I had a great offensive line to follow behind and it worked out.”
Though Ellens is in his third varsity season and is the only freshman to make the varsity in coach Chad Hetlet’s 16 years, the 5-9, 170-pounder has been under the radar. His only Division I offer is from Eastern Illinois.
But even when Pope returns, plenty of eyes likely will remain on Ellens.
“I feel like I’ll be more of a hybrid now that I’ve showed my running back skills,” he said. “Receiver’s still my No. 1 spot but I’d definitely like to be a hybrid-type player.”
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times
“He’s a freak,” Wisconsin-bound offensive tackle Chris Terek said of Ellens. “In my opinion, the best running back in the state wasn’t playing for us today. And he came in and did exactly what Joe would have done.”
Ellens and Pope won’t be the only offensive options going forward. Tai showed he’s capable of burning opponents intent on stacking the box to stop the run. The returning quarterback completed 6 of 12 passes for 158 yards and the two scores to Ellens.
The Hilltoppers, who also return their entire offensive line intact, may be leaning on the offense to put up points while a young defense gets its bearings.
“I’m most proud of how we bent but didn’t break defensively,” Hetlet said. “I’ve really got two dudes back from last year and nobody with significant time. There’s a bunch of juniors out there defensively.”
Marist senior Dermot Smyth, making his first career start at quarterback after being a starting receiver last season, had a rough start. His interception and lost fumble on the RedHawks’ first two possessions led to short fields and touchdowns for Glenbard West.
But Smyth and Marist rallied. He finished 18 of 29 for 243 yards and a 58-yard touchdown to Mike Donegan. Miami (Ohio) recruit Ryan Sims and Donegan combined for seven catches for 161 yards, and junior back Marc Coy ran 21 times for 105 yards and three touchdowns.
Coy’s five-yard TD run on Marist’s first possession of the second half — which covered 80 yards in 15 plays and took 8:32 off the click — cut the deficit to 33-31. Marist drove to the Glenbard West five-yard line in the fourth quarter, but missed a 45-yard field goal after losing ground via penalties and a sack.
The RedHawks missed another 45-yard field-goal try on the next-to-last play of the game and Glenbard West could finally exhale.
“That was a heavyweight battle in week one,” Hetlet said. “You’re looking at two teams that could be really special.”