By Bob Balgemann


Harlem’s varsity football team is at the half-way mark of the abbreviated, six-game NIC-10 season.

So far the Huskies have trounced Rockford Auburn, 36-12, in their first outing, while treating their fans to a 48-7 rout of Freeport in the home opener on March 27.

They’ll be back on the road at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, at Belvidere North, which is off to a tough start that included an opening night 61-0 shellacking at the hands of Hononegah.

In the opener at Auburn, a team known for speed and an effective running game, Harlem’s defense limited the Knights 18 carries for 37 yards, an average of just over two yards per attempt. Passing wise, the hosts completed 5-of-21 throws for 83 yards.

The Huskie defense that night consisted of a blend of sophomores, juniors and seniors including Tyrone Tyrus, Michael Wiggs, Adrian Yglecias, Deven Ortiz, Omarion McFadden, Jessie Garrett and Logan Lawson.

Offensively, senior quarterback James Cooper Sr. picked up where he left off last year, throwing three touchdown passes and running for a fourth against Auburn.

He closed out the 2019 season completing 191-of-341 passes for 2,340 yards and 25 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, as Harlem posted a 7-3 record in the first campaign under head coach Bob Moynihan.

In a defensive struggle that almost lasted the entire first quarter, Harlem struck first with 36 seconds remaining on a TD run by Cooper. The extra point attempt failed, leaving the early score at 6-0 for the visitors.

As a runner in 2019, Cooper carried the ball 50 times for 98 yards and five touchdowns.

The Huskies broke out in the second period, scoring three times to take a 28-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Cooper and one of his favorite targets from last season, now senior wide receiver Dominic McCarren, teamed on a scoring pass with 10:09 remaining until the break. Junior Adrian Palos, a big part of both the offense and defense last year, ran for the two-point conversion to increase the margin to 14-0.

McCarren finished third in receiving in 2019, pulling down 39 throws for 528 yards, an average of 13.5 yards per grab, and eight touchdowns.

A little later in the period Palos got a running touchdown of his own, at 8:09 of the quarter, and Cooper added the conversion to make it 22-0. As a sophomore last year, Palos was a force on the ground, running 44 times for 364 yards, an average of 8.4 yards per carry, and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. He also caught seven passes for 35 yards and a pair of scores. 

A new target for Cooper, 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver Dezzion Jordan, hauled in a scoring pass just 32 seconds before intermission and after the PAT failed, Harlem was up, 28-0.

Auburn came back a little in the second half, outscoring the Huskies, 12-8, but was unable to overcome its first-half deficit. Harlem’s only score came on a second Cooper-to-McCarren TD pass with 9:45 left in the game. Cooper and Palos generated the two-point conversion on a pass play.

The win over the Knights left Harlem in control of that conference rival over the past 11 years. Starting in 2009, the Huskies won four in a row by 48-0, 42-0, 50-28 and 36-28.

Dan Appino came over from Boylan Catholic in 2012, after his Titans won consecutive state championships in 2010 and 2011. But Harlem won the first three of the Appino era, 36-28, 21-20 and 14-13. Auburn then won the next three, 36-24, 49-8 and 28-7.

Appino then retired and was replaced by head coach John Toldo. Harlem is on a three-game winning streak, 34-7, 55-12 and now, 36-12, to open the 2021 campaign.

Harlem had a frosh/soph game on opening weekend and won handily over suburban Vernon Hills, 42-6.

Trail early

Saturday’s game with Freeport was a throw-back to the 1960s and 1970s, when the vast majority of high school football games in Illinois were played Saturday afternoon. The typical lineup was sophomores at noon, varsity at 2 p.m.

While the final score of the 1 p.m. game against the Pretzels was a 41-point win for the Huskies, they actually trailed the visitors 7-6 early in the first quarter. Freeport’s go-ahead touchdown and extra point kick came with 4:35 left in the period, after Harlem had gone ahead, 6-0, at the 7:34 mark on a scoring run by Cooper.

It was all down hill after that for the Pretzels with Harlem scoring at least once in every quarter. It was 18-7 for the home squad at halftime, with no extra points having been made as of that time.

Cooper and McCarren combined on a scoring pass with 9:36 to go in the third quarter and this time there was a two-point conversion to up the difference to 26-7. Not long after that another Cooper TD pass, this one to Palos, made it 32-7 going into the final eight minutes of play.

Harlem’s record-holding quarterback had a hand in each of the fourth-quarter touchdowns, running for one and passing to Palos for the other. A pair of two-point conversions brought the final score to 48-7.

The Huskies now have won 10 of their last 11 games against Freeport by an average score of 42-17. In 2009, they rang up their highest score ever by defeating the Pretzels, 72-14.

Harlem won the 2019 game, 48-21.

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