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Benet's Porter Ontko breaks through the Oswego defense during its playoff game. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Leading into his team’s Class 7A second-round tilt with third-seeded Oswego, Benet coach Pat New had lots to feel good about.
His team’s defensive play throughout the year has no doubt been one of those reasons for his optimism.
Friday night, it showed up again — at the most opportune time.
Putting itself behind the eight-ball early on with four first-half turnovers, junior Porter Ontko’s 51-yard interception return for a TD early in the third quarter sparked a 21-point second half for second-seeded Benet on its way to earning a 28-13 victory over Oswego at Benedictine University in Lisle.
“Well, I was manned up against (Oswego senior WR Jack) Kwiatkowski and I knew he’s a great receiver,” Ontko said of his third-quarter pick-six of Panthers’ senior QB Brett Wainwright that single-handedly erased a 13-7 Oswego halftime lead. “So I knew he was doing a quick-out because he took one step. I actually slipped and I regained my traction and jumped the ball. Luckily, I got it. A few good blocks downfield and, you know, I took it home.”
With the program’s first state quarterfinal appearance since 2003, Benet (10-1), winners of eight straight games, will travel to meet eighth-seeded Downers Grove North next weekend.
The Redwings, who overcame five turnovers on the night, including seeing sophomore QB Jack Beneventi lose a pair of fumbles, received 209 yards and two TDs on the ground from Ontko and 74 yards from junior Nick McTarnaghan.
Turning their offensive focus away from the passing game and to their running game in the second half after Beneventi only threw for 74 yards in the first half proved crucial for the Redwings’ fortunes.
“What we decided was they were really taking away our passing game. They tried to take away our strength, which is our passing game,” New said. “The game plan going in was we were gonna pass first and we thought at halftime, ‘Let’s try running the ball a little bit’ and that seemed to be … it obviously worked for us pretty well in the second half.”
Panthers’ senior running back Mickeel Stewart ran 15 times for 93 yards in the first half and it was his 14-yard TD run with 1:03 left in the first half following Beneventi’s second fumble that capped a four-play, 29-yard scoring drive and gave the Panthers their first and only lead of the game at 13-7.
Beneventi’s two first-half fumbles gave Oswego (9-2) a pair of short fields against Benet’s well-regarded defense and it turned both fumble recoveries into scores.
But it was the Panthers’ inability to do more with the five turnovers they forced that may have ultimately proven to be their undoing in seeing their eight-game winning streak get snapped, along with their season.
“Well, it’s a testament to how good our defense is. I mean, we were up at halftime. So that’s where we wanted to be going out at half,” Oswego coach Brian Cooney said of the defensive performance Oswego turned in the first half. “So nothing wrong with that.”
Stewart finished with 131 yards and a TD on 23 carries for the Panthers.