There's offensive efficiency, and then there's what Homewood-Flossmoor did last Friday night at Downers Grove South.
Anxious to get a highly anticipated season underway, the state's top-ranked team left no doubt about their explosive potential in a 56-15 victory over the Mustangs.
In seven scoring drives from the first team offense, the Vikings averaged 2.8 plays; no drive took more than six plays, and four of those possessions needed two plays or fewer. The constant home-run strikes resulted in Homewood-Flossmoor needing just 7:03 to score seven touchdowns, with no drive taking longer than 2:14 to find the end zone. Their first five touchdowns came in the offense's first 11 plays from scrimmage.
"I told Bryce, I told Deante, I told Devonte, ‘Can y'all please slow down so I can get a break?’" joked senior defensive end Tyler Newkirk, who led the defense with 13 tackles. "Because we go on the field, make a stop, they get on the field and then I’m right back on the field for PAT and then I got to get ready to go back on defense. So I’ve told those guys countless times and they’re like, ‘We can’t. We’ve got to keep scoring.’ So it is what it is. I’m glad they’re scoring. It’s a good problem to have."
Quarterback Bryce Gray led the charge with an unimaginable box score: 8-for-9, 348 yards and four touchdown passes in a little more than a half on the field. The Harley-Hampton touchdown competition got off to a rousing start, with Devonte finding the end zone twice on touchdown runs in the first quarter, while brother Deante scored from 31 yards out on the game's opening drive. Deante added a second score early in the second quarter on a 28-yard middle screen pass from Gray. A 66-yard catch-and-run score out of halftime gave Devonte his third score of the night.
Wide receiver Kendric Pryor, who committed to Wisconsin late Wednesday night, picked up right where he left off a year ago, too. The senior caught four passes for 152 yards and a pair of scores from Gray. The Vikings' explosive offense was summed up when a holding call and intentional grounding left them with a 2nd-and-33 from the Mustangs' 35-yard line. Gray took the snap, looked right and lofted a perfectly thrown ball to Pryor, four yards in front of his defender, for the score.
"We trust each other. I know where he’s going to be, I know if I throw it up 90 percent of the time he’s going to go get it," Gray said. "If he doesn’t get it nobody’s going to get it, so it’s great."
Statistically it's difficult to envision a high school program improving on a prior season in which they amassed 5,800 yards and nearly 600 points. But the trial run Friday night made it look like a matter of when, not if, they'll do just that.
"We know each other. We trust each other. Not many new pieces, so we’ve been playing with each other in this offense three years with the core guys. So we trust what Coach Buzz calls, trust the play calling, trust the coaches and we do what we do," Gray said. "And if we execute like we did today, it’s going to be hard to beat."
Even the backups, talent good enough to start on most teams in the state, showed promise. Reserve quarterback Trevor Johnson, who was split wide in an athlete role with the first team, led an 11-play drive in the third quarter that resulted in a 20-yard score from running back Tony Bello.
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A rival head coach described the Vikings' offense to CSN's Edgy Tim as a "machine," and their Week 1 performance certainly backed it up.
Despite the lackluster opponent, Friday was a crisp display of how deadly the Vikings' offense can and should be this season. With eight starters enjoying their second season in the role, head coach Craig Buzea believes the explosive unit is adding cohesiveness in the form of trusting one another on every play call.
"There's a feel amongst each other when things don't go well, there's always someone to bail them out," he said. "I think that just comes with time and chemistry and playing together a long time. I really sense that between them all."
They'll need to continue that camaraderie as they head into a Week 2 showdown against Stevenson, the reigning 8A state champion that stole glory from many of the same seniors who will take the field in Lincolnshire in Week 2. For some, like Deante Harley-Hampton, it's revenge. For others, it's simply the first tough test on the Vikings' schedule toward eminence in the form of a state championship in DeKalb 3 months from now.
"I'm sure our guys will show up and play, I'm sure their guys will. It'll be a great atmosphere, great high school game," Buzea said. "Win or lose, there's going to be seven more games to play. I think it's going to be exciting."