Last-second score lifts Mustangs over Titans
File this one in the lost-and-found category.
What was nearly lost Friday night in Tinley Park was a game visiting Evergreen Park appeared to have firmly in hand midway through the fourth quarter. But a 21-7 lead disappeared in the span of five minutes, courtesy of two Titans touchdowns and a safety.
Found by the Mustangs in the final 1:08, however, was their footing. With their perfect record on the verge of being sullied, Evergreen athletes dug deep one last time and made another march downfield that took them all the way to Tinley’s 5-yard line.
Just enough seconds remained for Mustangs kicker Matt Schulte to then boot a 22-yard field goal and lift his team to an unexpectedly stressful 24-22 triumph in a South Suburban Conference crossover game.
“They’re a pretty resilient group,” Evergreen coach Dan Hartman said of his players. “They never quit.”
While Hartman appreciated that refusal to surrender, he wasn’t thrilled about the Mustangs placing themselves in such a predicament after seemingly having things well under control.
“We kind of treated it as a loss [afterward],” Hartman said matter-of-factly. “We really convinced the kids that sometimes you get lucky. One of these times it’s not going to work out for us.”
In each of its three on-field wins to date, Evergreen has had to come from behind. The week before, the Mustangs (4-0) spotted Oak Lawn a 10-0 halftime lead before their offense awakened in the second half and paved the way for an 11-point victory.
This time, the script was flip-flopped. Evergreen pretty much owned the opening half versus the Titans, as it scored all of its touchdowns and piled up more than 300 of its 468 total yards.
Tailback Keyshawn Carpenter, who cracked the 200-yard barrier in rushing, delivered the Mustangs’ initial TD on a 2-yard run. Quarterback Jonathan O’Brien tallied on an 8-yard keeper later in the first quarter and then hooked up with Sean Ryan on a 7-yard scoring toss in the second period.
All Tinley could offer in response was the first of Preston Thompson’s three touchdowns, as Evergreen’s defense proved a formidable accomplice to its offense. Mike Rizzo was the Mustangs’ headline performer on the prevention side with 15 total tackles, but Brent Bogusz (11 tackles), Dan Kohler (nine stops, fumble recovery), Tremane Holt (eight tackles, forced fumble) and James Jackson (eight stops) also contributed measurably.
“I felt the defense played well all night,” Hartman said. “The points they gave up [later] came on a short field.
“It was [all] clicking, but then we had some issues come up. If we can ever put two good halves together, we’ll be a difficult team to beat.”
After the Titans picked up two points when O’Brien was flagged for intentional grounding while standing in his own end zone, the hosts returned the ensuing free kick into Mustangs territory. Thompson quickly hit paydirt and inched Tinley within six.
Following another uneventful Evergreen possession, the Titans then roared in front and put the Mustangs on the brink of a crushing defeat.
So what exactly caused the steep momentum shift? In Hartman’s mind, it was a matter of his players settling into a comfort zone.
“I think guys thought we had the game won after we got up 21-7,” he said. “To be honest, when it happened [that we fell behind], I thought they’d let it happen one time too many.”
Schulte obviously saved the day and put Evergreen one victory away from becoming playoff eligible for the third consecutive season under Hartman. That’s the least of the coach’s concerns at the moment, though.
Before thinking in postseason terms, Hartman wants the Mustangs to take care of the assignment immediately in front of them. And that’s a tall order, seeing as how next up on Evergreen’s docket is a Friday clash with unbeaten Richards in Oak Lawn.
The Mustangs whipped the Bulldogs handily in a road contest two years ago, but Richards exacted its revenge in 2012. Hartman isn’t worried about what happened before, only what’s in store for Evergreen in 2013.
“This is probably the best team we’ve played in three years, including in the playoffs,” Hartman said. “They have talent and speed all over the field, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us. We have to play up to our capabilities and not have any letdowns.”
Evergreen Park 14 7 0 3 - 24
Tinley Park 0 7 0 15 - 22
EP — Keyshawn Carpenter, 2-yd. run (Matt Schulte kick)
EP — Jonathan O’Brien, 8-yd. run (Schulte kick)
EP — Sean Ryan, 7-yd. pass from O’Brien (Schulte kick)
EP — Schulte, 22-yd. field goal
Evergreen Park Rushing: Carpenter 30-208, O’Brien 7-47. Passing: O’Brien 31-15-203. Receiving: McClendon 8-87, Gurrister 3-64.