BOLINGBROOK, Ill. -- Friday's season-opening football game between No. 5 Bolingbrook and No. 14 Downers Grove South was supposed to be a battle between the Raiders' punishing defense and the Mustangs' talented offense led by quarterback Chandler Whitmer.
There were certainly moments that Bolingbrook's defense knocked around Downers South's players, as it was expected to, and Whitmer showed flashes of why he's going to Illinois next year, but the game was decided elsewhere. Bolingbrook defeated the visiting Mustangs 16-14 Friday not due its offense or defense. Rather, it was special teams that made the difference on opening night.
Trailing 10-7 with just under six minutes remaining in the game, Downers South set up to attempt a 39-yard field goal to tie it. Bolingbrook's Rodney Stephen had a different idea. The ball was snapped and Stephen found an open lane from the right side straight to the kicker. He blocked the ball with his stomach, teammate Matt Sapone recovered it and ran all the way down to the Mustangs' 15-yard line.
"That was the big play of the game," Bolingbrook running back Jamel Martin said. "The great block gave us the momentum."
Martin took the momentum and capitalized on it right away. On the following play, he scored on a 15-yard run to put Bolingbrook up 16-7 with 5:19 remaining.
"I knew at that point the game was over," said Stephen of Martin's touchdown.
He was right. Whitmer connected with wide receiver Jason Jozaites for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:00 remaining, but that would be it. Bolingbrook held on to the ball off the Mustangs' onside kick and ran out the clock.
Afterward, Downers Grove South coach John Belskis expressed his disappointment in his special teams. The Mustangs previously had given Bolingbrook a first down in the second half when they had 12 players on the field during a punt return.
"This is not Downers Grove South football," Belskis said. "We expect to win games with our special teams. We lost it tonight."
The Mustangs' offensive line also struggled in the first half and gave Whitmer little time. He went 1-for-6 for 20 yards, with two interceptions, in the first half. In the second half, he and the line began to click; he turned it around, going 10-for-12 with 102 yards and a touchdown. He hooked up with Jozaites eight times for 91 yards in the second half.
"The first half, we didn't come out firing," said Whitmer, who also rushed for a touchdown. "I thought we played timid. We weren't ready from the start."
Stephen and Chris Adjepong accounted for Bolingbrook's interceptions. Adjepong also had a huge sack in the fourth quarter.
Bolingbrook's other scores came on a 78-yard pass from Brad Geever to Chris Williams and a 30-yard field goal by Nick Knutson. Geever threw for 184 yards and rushed for 21 yards. Martin had a team-high 54 rushing yards.
Downers Grove South sophomore Josh Williams rushed for 134 yards.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org