STEVE HANLON: Pennington leads Ingots to another strong start

2011-09-15T22:00:00Z 2012-08-30T23:54:21Z STEVE HANLON: Pennington leads Ingots to another strong startBy Steve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
September 15, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

Calumet had beaten River Forest nine consecutive times. That's a lot of minutes, a lot of chain-gang movements and a lot of failure for one program.

But last Friday night everything changed. The Ingots beat the Warriors 34-7. One of the biggest reasons for this history-switching win is junior quarterback Justin Pennington.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound first-year QB has thrown for 600 yards and nine touchdowns and he's run for 200 yards and four more scores.

And this is where it gets crazy.

"Last year I thought I was a basketball player," said Pennington, who did play defensive back on River's football team but was more proud of the 19 points he scored against Whiting over the winter.

"But now I think I can be good at both sports," Pennington said.

Known as "JJ" to his friends, Pennington did play quarterback on the junior varsity team last fall. The varsity team started 3-0 for only the third time in the program's 52-year history.

Then, the Ingots lost seven straight. Only one of those games was close.

So coach Jeff Bean got his small-school team into the weight room, and -- knock on wood -- the injury bug has flown elsewhere.

"The team chemistry this year has been outstanding," Bean said. "I can't say that I was expecting to be 3-1. But I thought we would be competitive. We knew we had the tools and the weapons."

Actually, the Ingots could very easily be 4-0. In their 38-30 loss to Elwood (Michigan), two special teams gaffs likely cost them the win.

"We'd like to have that one over again," Bean said.

Tonight the Ingots travel to North Newton, a program they've lost to eight consecutive times. Pennington broke his wrist against the Spartans last year.

This is a very big win to solidify the turnaround. Another win would keep the Ingots in a tie with Wheeler in the Greater South Shore Conference race.

"I feel like our team is ready for the challenge," Pennington said. "Being the quarterback, I knew I had to step up. I need to be a leader and a role model. I run the offense, so I have to do my job."

Bean felt that the hoop-hanging Pennington was more of a passer in the summer. But as the air cools and the lights get brighter, he's been comfortable putting his head down and running for yardage.

He almost had 100 yards on the ground last Friday against Calumet.

"He's gotten a lot bolder with the ball in his hands," Bean said.

Can River Forest win tonight in Morocco? We'll find out. The Ingots have been shut out the last two times these programs have faced off. There will not be a zero on River's side of the scoreboard.

Like the team's turnaround, Pennington is the reason for that.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

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