Football: Joliet West’s Niko Messino has memorable receiving day
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2013 9:02PM
Joliet West's Niko Messino (31) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Sandburg in Joliet on Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:17AM
On the second play of Joliet West’s final possession in Saturday’s 36-28 SouthWest Suburban Blue loss to Sandburg, quarterback Anthony DiNardo was under pressure and threw the ball to the right flat to his safety valve, running back Jordan Brown.
Jordan’s elusiveness and speed, coupled with a downfield block from wide receiver Niko Messino, produced a 60-yard play that ended inside the Sandburg 5-yard line.
But wait, the dreaded yellow flag. Messino was called for a block in the back, and the play netted five yards. The Tigers (2-2, 0-2) did go on and drive to a first-and-goal at the Sandburg 8 in the final minute but were turned away.
“I thought I got my head in front,” the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Messino said of his block. “He (the official) didn’t. It will be interesting to see the film.”
“Niko always makes that block, and this is the first time he got called for it,” DiNardo said.
West coach Jason Aubry calls Messino his best football player. The penalty — and, of course, the final score — put a damper on Messino’s best game. It’s unlikely any receiver in the area has had or will have a better day.
Messino caught 12 passes for 263 yards (21.9 yards per catch), and touchdowns of 54 and 11 yards, besides grabbing a key 2-point conversion pass. He just about doubled his output from a productive first three games, when he caught 13 for 256 yards.
Messino was clutch. Eleven of his catches were for a first down or touchdown. He caught an 11-yard pass flat on his back on second-and-9 and a 21-yarder with a defender draped on him on fourth-and-18 to keep the final drive alive.
Among his earlier receptions were a 19-yarder on fourth-and-7, a 38-yarder on third-and-19, a 31-yarder on second-and-7, a 20-yarder in heavy traffic on second-and-9, a 21-yarder on second-and-12 and a 25-yarder on first-and-10.
He transformed the middle of the Sandburg defense into his office.
“Every time Niko goes up for a ball, he catches it or he makes sure it does not get picked off,” said DiNardo, who finished 33-of-56 for 461 yards and four touchdowns. “That’s why he is our go-to guy. He always makes the play.
“He has an uncle who sent him an Instagram that said he was going to catch 16 for 280-some yards and four touchdowns in this game. He came close.”
“When the ball comes my way, I try to get it,” Messino said, matter-of-factly. “Sandburg has a good defense, so it wasn’t easy, but you don’t expect it to be.”
“Anthony DiNardo and J.B. are great players, but Niko is the best football player we have,” Aubry said. “He runs out of our Tiger (Wildcat). He catches, throws and blocks until they’re on their back. He does all the little things.
“And, when he steps on the field, he has a chip on his shoulder.”
Messino acknowledged the game was among his best but added, “there’s always room for improvement. Look at the way Anthony was making plays with his legs and his arm.
“But this one’s over. All we can do is get better.”