Mustangs rebound after break to sting OL
One half meant a whole lot to Evergreen Park Friday night.
After doing little of note through the first two quarters and finding themselves behind visiting Oak Lawn 10-0, the Mustangs turned things around following intermission. Not right away, though.
Evergreen did climb within 10-7 during the third period, but it didn’t complete its comeback until the final stanza had gotten underway. A 50-yard pass from Jonathan O’Brien to Jacquet McClendon finally gave the Mustangs a lead to protect, and that’s what they did for the remainder of the contest.
For good measure, Eric Gurrister tacked on an insurance touchdown with his 20-yard reception — his lone catch of the evening — and Evergreen was able to beat back the Spartans’ challenge and earn a 21-10 triumph in both schools’ South Suburban Conference Red opener. The win kept the Mustangs’ ledger spotless in 2013.
“It was still hit-and-miss [for part of the second half], but our defense really stepped up,” Evergreen coach Dan Hartman said. “I felt we kind of took a hold on the game after we got up 14-10.
“It was kind of a tale of two halves for us. We only had about 50 yards in the first half, and we had a lot of mental errors — [on almost] every single play we had a missed assignment somewhere.”
Oak Lawn (1-2, 0-1) didn’t wait long to take advantage of the Mustangs’ early missteps, as Ray Howard culminated his team’s opening series with a 5-yard touchdown run. The senior back topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the third game in a row, finishing with 142 yards on 29 carries.
“He’s the real deal,” Hartman said of Howard. “He runs hard, he’s real slippery, and he’s tough to bring down. Anytime you’ve got a running back that can go all the way on any given play, that’s a tough matchup.”
Spartans coach Sean Lucas isn’t at all surprised by what Howard has accomplished to date.
“You work hard and you get rewarded,” Lucas said. “He’s a high-character guy and he worked hard in the offseason, so he deserves to carry the ball 25 or 30 times [per game].
“He’s not fast and he’s not [overly] quick, but he can make you miss. He sees the field well.”
When Byron Duran booted a 40-yard field goal on Oak Lawn’s behalf in the second quarter, the Spartans went ahead 10-0 and seemingly firmed up their grip on the contest.
For sure, Lucas felt good about what was unfolding in front of him. He was particularly enamored of his prevention-side group, which was spearheaded by Joe Robinson (five solo tackles, two assists), Tony Muro (four solos, seven assists), Ahmad Zain-Al-Dean (four solos, five assists), Kyle Kuzur (four solos, four assists, one sack) and Scott Quinn (interception).
“That was the best our defense has played in my three years as coach, at least for the first three quarters,” Lucas said. “In the fourth quarter, for whatever reason, we stopped attacking and doing what got us to that point.”
Any defensive shortcomings might not have mattered too much had Oak Lawn been able to pad its lead. The Spartans appeared on their way to doing so the first time they got the ball in the second half, as they briskly marched down to Evergreen’s 20-yard line.
From there, however, everything went haywire. A 3-yard loss, fumbled snap and penalty called against Oak Lawn on three successive plays stalled the visitors in their tracks, and Duran was unable to salvage anything point-wise when he went wide on a field-goal try from 37 yards out.
“Our offense had success against their defense, but we didn’t sustain it [long enough] to keep our defense off the field,” Lucas said. “That wound up costing us.”
With the Mustangs (3-0, 1-0) purposely speeding things up in the second half, the Spartans were put back on their heels. Keyshawn Carpenter’s 10-yard TD run then gave Evergreen a third-period breakthrough on the scoreboard and, along with it, an added jolt of momentum.
“We’ve been in that situation a lot the last couple of years,” Hartman said, referring to the Mustangs being in arrears at halftime. “This is what happens when you come out flat and not ready to play.
“But we’ve had three years of different types of games, and a lot of these guys have at least seen us go through that. We’ve seen everything from double-wing [formations] to spread [offenses] to teams that are huge and like to grind it out, but we [usually] adapt to the situation.”
O’Brien proved a troublesome double-pronged weapon for Oak Lawn to handle, as he completed 10-of-20 passes for 166 yards and augmented that showing with 91 yards on the ground, second to Carpenter’s 98 rushing yards. McClendon latched onto seven of O’Brien’s completions and gained 104 receiving yards.
Evergreen also had its own defensive stickouts, most notably deep back Tim Walsh, who picked off two Trevor Wagner passes and now has four interceptions on the year. James Jackson added a couple of sacks.
Howard was pretty much the Spartans’ main man offensively, as Wagner — who subbed for an injured Konrad Lach (knee) — connected on just 6-of-15 throws for 48 yards. Despite that lack of punch beyond Howard, Lucas still thought his squad let one slip away.
“Not to take anything away from Evergreen, but this is a game we should have won,” he said. “We couldn’t see it [all the way through] and they came away with the win, so hats off to them.”
Oak Lawn will try to square its ledger this weekend against Argo, which is also off to a 3-0 start.
“We talk to our kids about overcoming adversity and handling setbacks,” Lucas said. “We did that for three quarters against Evergreen, and now we have to do it for an entire game. It’s going to be exciting [in the SSC Red], week in and week out.”
The Mustangs, meanwhile, will tangle with a Tinley Park club Hartman calls “the best 1-2 team I’ve seen. Hopefully, we can keep [the winning] up.”
Oak Lawn 7 3 0 0 - 10
Evergreen Park 0 0 7 14 - 21
Yds. rushing 205 214
Yds. passing 48 166
Total yds. 253 380
Att./comp. 16-6 20-10
Fumbles/lost 1-0 0-0
Had intercepted 2 1
OL — Ray Howard, 5-yd. run (Byron Duran kick)
OL — Duran, 40-yd. field goal
EP — Keyshawn Carpenter, 10-yd. run (Matt Schulte kick)
EP — Jacquet McClendon, 50-yd. pass from Jonathan O’Brien (Schulte kick)
EP — Eric Gurrister, 20-yd. pass from O’Brien (Schulte kick)
Oak Lawn Rushing: Howard 29-142, Norvell 12-41, Wagner 5-22. Passing: Wagner 15-6-48, Howard 1-0-0. Receiving: Zurek 4-31, Howard 2-17.
Evergreen Park Rushing: Carpenter23-98, O’Brien 10-91. Passing: O’Brien 20-10-166. Receiving: McClendon 7-104.