Backup QB leads Mustangs past Bulldogs
Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees had nothing on Evergreen Park.
Just as two of cinema’s most infamous bad-guy characters of the past 35 years were impervious to every act designed to kill them, so, too, are the Mustangs seemingly able to ward off all attempts to defeat them. The latest group to try — and fail — was Richards Friday night.
When Bulldogs quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Tears with less than five minutes remaining to give their team a six-point lead at Korhonen Field, Richards appeared to be standing on solid ground. While Evergreen has made a habit of staging late rallies during Dan Hartman’s three-year coaching tenure, rarely has it had to come back against a foe the caliber of this year’s Richards squad.
“They have a really good defense,” Hartman said of the Bulldogs, “and the speed they possess is outstanding. [But] Friday was a little bit different [for us] because we had over four minutes to play. It wasn’t a two-minute drill we had to run.”
However, the Mustangs were attacking the Bulldogs with a backup quarterback. Starter Jonathan O’Brien was knocked out of the South Suburban Conference Red showdown with a second-quarter collarbone injury, so Sean Ryan was at the controls of Evergreen’s offense.
That didn’t worry Hartman.
“Ryan competed for the job all summer,” he said. “And he filled in for O’Brien last year, so he’s taken quite a few reps the last 10 or so games we’ve played.”
Ryan certainly looked like a polished veteran as he guided the Mustangs downfield in the remaining moments. He completed a fourth-and-6 throw to Eric Gurrister to keep the drive going and then hooked up with Jacquet McClendon on a screen pass that went for a sizable gain after the senior receiver carried a few Richards defenders with him.
Ryan finally capped the possession with a 7-yard bootleg into the Bulldogs’ end zone. When Matt Schulte added the conversion kick, Evergreen had a one-point lead to protect for 24 seconds.
Richards got to midfield, but McClendon’s interception choked off the series and enabled the Mustangs to bag their second straight road victory, 35-34, over the Bulldogs. Evergreen notched a 33-0 triumph in 2011.
“We wanted to be within one score in the fourth quarter,” Hartman said. “We thought if we were, we had a good chance [to win].”
Ryan’s climatic dash concluded a game that featured seven lead changes, one of which occurred early in the third period as the Mustangs (5-0, 2-0) saw a 14-8 edge rapidly disappear.
A fumble caused by Richards linebacker Romel Hill on Evergreen’s last possession of the opening half allowed the Bulldogs (4-1, 1-1) to take over inside the visitors’ red zone. The scoring opportunity wasn’t squandered, as Ramontay Hill’s 2-yard run pulled Richards into a 14-all tie at the break.
Nick DeMarco then forced another Mustangs drop on their second-half kickoff return. Chrishawn Ross recovered the ball for the ’Dogs and Muhammad-Rogers soon after hit a payoff on a 9-yard keeper.
But if Richards expected Evergreen to sag at that juncture, it wasn’t going to happen.
“We tried to just keep them upbeat and positive,” Hartman said of his athletes. “I think knowing we’d beaten them before helped, and having been in a similar position other times [this season] also helped.
Keyshawn Carpenter, who had delivered the Mustangs’ initial touchdown on a 5-yard dash, scored again on a 2-yard run to inch them in front 21-20. In response, the Bulldogs called on their own Carpenter, senior receiver Tacari, to swing momentum back their way, which he did with a 39-yard TD reception.
But Richards’ advantage was short-lived, thanks to the Ryan-McClendon connection, which collaborated on a 52-yard scoring pass early in the final stanza. McClendon had also snared a 20-yard touchdown throw from O’Brien on the latter’s last play of the game in the second quarter.
“We just couldn’t get them off the field,” Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan said of Evergreen. “They had a good game plan, they’re a well-coached team and they executed, so hats off to them. But there were times we had them pinned and let them out. It kind of makes you sick to your stomach.
“If we score 34 points, we expect to win. It’s little frustrating because it’s a game we should have had. We left a couple scores on the table, which we’ve been doing, and we didn’t block and didn’t tackle well.
“This one’s entirely on me because I obviously didn’t do a good job of preparing them this [past] week. We’re going to get back to the basics and fundamental football.”
While Richards stood even with the Mustangs at intermission, Sheehan cited two first-half instances where his club failed to prosper after advancing inside Evergreen’s 20-yard line.
“It’s little things that are killing us,” Sheehan said.
The Mustangs outgained the Bulldogs by slightly more than 40 yards, but putting an even bigger crimp in Richards’ operation were penalty flags. The hosts were guilty of 14 infractions that resulted in 115 lost yards, although Sheehan disputed at least a few of those calls.
Muhammad-Rogers was the ’Dogs’ top offensive threat with a team-best 113 rushing yards in addition to his 188 yards through the air. The junior also tallied Richards’ first TD of the evening on a 40-yard run.
Evergreen countered, however, with the Carpenter-McClendon combo, who supplied more than 300 yards between them. Carpenter accumulated 161 rushing yards on 40 carries, while McClendon caught nine passes from his two quarterbacks totaling 142 yards.
“We tried to establish the run early and hit short, high-percentage passes before their safeties could come up [to defend],” Hartman said. “We wanted to keep mixing it up as much as we could to keep them off-balance.”
McClendon was also a defensive player of note as he made 11 tackles in addition to his interception. Tim Walsh picked off his fifth pass of the year and James Jackson sacked Muhammad-Rogers three times. Key figures for the Bulldogs on the prevention side were Romel Hill (12 tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery), Ramontay Hill (eight stops) and Lucas White (eight).
“Maybe this was a little bit of an eye-opener for us,” Sheehan said of the defeat. “We’ll find out [this] Friday if it was a good thing or not, but we’ve got to have a good week of practice and do what we do best.”
Reavis, a 26-7 winner over Shepard in Week 5, visits Korhonen Field Friday night. Meanwhile, Evergreen will tangle with undefeated Argo.
Sheehan thinks the Mustangs could be a serious contender for a Class 4A championship in November — “If they play like they did Friday night, they very well could run the table,” he said — but his coaching counterpart doesn’t want his players to get too far ahead of themselves.
“With how good [the Bulldogs] are, this might be our biggest regular-season win,” Hartman said, “but the letdown is always something you have to worry about. Argo is undefeated, and if we win we’re [officially] in the playoffs, so I think there’s something to play for and we’re almost treating it like a playoff game.
“We feel if we can get into [the state tournament], we’ve got a chance [to win it all]. We can compete with anybody, but we’re really trying to take it a game at a time.”
Evergreen Park 0 14 7 14 - 35
Richards 8 6 12 8 - 34
First downs — 16
Yds. rushing 168 153
Yds. passing 216 188
Total yds. 384 341
Att./comp. 39-23 32-18
Fumbles/lost 2-2 0-0
Had intercepted 0 2
Penalties/yds. — 14-115
Punts/avg. — 5-30.0
HLR — Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, 40-yd. run (Spencer Tears, pass from Muhammad-Rogers)
EP — Keyshawn Carpenter, 5-yd. run (Matt Schulte kick)
EP — Jacquet McClendon, 20-yd. pass from Jonathan O’Brien (Schulte kick)
HLR — Ramontay Hill, 2-yd. run (run failed)
HLR — Muhammad-Rogers, 9-yd. run (pass failed)
EP — Carpenter, 2-yd. run (Schulte kick)
HLR — Tacari Carpenter, 39-yd. pass from Muhammad-Rogers (run failed)
EP — McClendon, 52-yd. pass from Sean Ryan (Schulte kick)
HLR — Tears, 9-yd. pass from Muhammad-Rogers (Muhammad-Rogers run)
EP — Ryan, 7-yd. run (Schulte kick)
Evergreen Park Rushing: K. Carpenter 40-161. Passing: Ryan 17-11-121, O’Brien 22-12-95. Receiving: McClendon 9-142.
Richards Rushing: Muhammad-Rogers 20-113, Ra. Hill 12-37, Ross 1-3. Passing: Muhammad-Rogers 32-18-188. Receiving: Tears 7-57, T. Carpenter 4-74, Willett 4-41, Marchione 2-18, Ross 1-(-2).