This time, Spartans get breaks, beat Astros
The agents of misfortune suddenly got a few breaks to go their way.
And those circumstances were enough for Oak Lawn to overcome its sometimes-erratic performance Friday night and bag its first victory since opening week. By no means was it easy — host Shepard, in fact, held a 20-7 halftime lead — but the Spartans were glad to accept a 21-20 South Suburban Conference Red win under any conditions.
“Would you rather be lucky or good,” Oak Lawn coach Sean Lucas said with a chuckle. “We’ll take lucky this week.”
For sure, the Spartans had been anything but that in recent weeks. Most frustrating to them were losses to Argo and Eisenhower in Weeks 4 and 5, both of which were administered by just two points.
“We’ve been telling our players all year we’re a good team,” Lucas said. “We just had to prove it.”
Ironically, from a pure execution standpoint, Oak Lawn’s third-year leader thought his athletes had actually performed at a higher level versus the Argonauts and Cardinals than they did against the Astros. In Lucas’ opinion, the Spartans “didn’t play well at all [here].”
That obviously wasn’t completely true, but Oak Lawn (2-4, 1-2) did itself no favors by coming away empty on its very first possession. The Spartans ventured all the way down to Shepard’s 1-yard line, but mishandled a third-down snap and then were stopped on fourth down.
That might not have mattered had the Astros been immediately quieted, but the home team instead hit Oak Lawn with two long scoring plays in the first period. Emmanuel Williams (85-yard run) and Kyle Dye (83-yard pass from Shane Javorski) did the honors for Shepard (0-6, 0-4), which had been held under 100 total yards three times during the season’s first five weeks.
“The two juniors finally came through and made big plays,” Astros coach Dominic Passolano said. “There was energy there and enthusiasm there, [but] we flat-lined offensively after that.”
Not entirely, as Raphael Williams caught an 18-yard TD pass from Javorski to offset Ray Howard’s 5-yard scoring dash on the Spartans’ behalf and re-establish a double-digit edge for the hosts in the second quarter. But before that happened, Lucas thought Oak Lawn had been mired in some sluggishness of its own.
“Our defense was really playing well except for those two plays,” he said, referring to Shepard’s pair of early six-pointers. “But we were down 14-0, which was big considering we probably should have been up 7-0. We were back on our heels and we became really flat after that.”
A fumble on one third-period series didn’t portend a turnaround for the Spartans, but their defense held firm after the Astros advanced to Oak Lawn’s 30 and then provided a bigger lift a bit later by generating points. Joe Cosenza (four solo tackles, four assists, one-half sack) did so by returning an interception 45 yards.
“We were emotionless [before that],” Lucas said. “That got us going.”
The Spartans’ prevention corps certainly stayed active. Before the third stanza ended, it set Oak Lawn up for the go-ahead score by forcing a fumble. Tony Muro (three solos, five assists) caused it with one of his two sacks and Kyle Kuzur (one solo, five assists) made the recovery at Shepard’s 11.
Soon after, Howard reached the Astros’ end zone on a 1-yard plunge and a third successful conversion kick by freshman Adnare Laanati then inched the visitors in front by a point. Laanati was subbing for regular place-kicker Byron Duran, who separated his shoulder while recovering an onsides kick the week before versus Eisenhower.
The Spartans were not yet home free, however. First, they had to survive a field-goal attempt by Shepard in the fourth quarter. The kick was off the mark, but the Astros later got one more chance to snatch a win away from Oak Lawn after they pounced on a fumble at the Spartans’ 35.
A holding penalty likely knocked Shepard out of field-goal range, but the Astros were still close enough to throw a ball into the end zone. Kuzur prevented disaster for Oak Lawn by swiping the pass, which resulted in a touchback and allowed the visitors to run out the clock.
Kurt Kuzur (six solos, five assists), Ahmad Zain-Al-Dean (two solos, 10 assists, one sack), Scott Quinn (four solos, one assist), Joe Robinson (three solos, two assists) and Eric Arreola (one solo, five assists, 1½ sacks) were other principal figures on defense for the Spartans.
“The margin of victory in this conference is so thin,” Lucas said. “Nothing’s easy, but I’ll take it. I’ll take lucky three more times to get into the playoffs.”
Shepard’s setback couldn’t hide the vast improvement it made on offense, where it amassed a season-best 453 total yards. Dye was a two-pronged threat as he caught five passes for 162 yards and also rushed 12 times for 75 more. Emmanuel Williams (eight carries, 90 yards) and Keyon Lansdown (six receptions) also did their part.
Defensive headliners for the Astros included Javorski (four solos, four assists, one tackle for loss), Khali Mitchell (four solos, three assists, one tackle for loss), Dye (four solos, two assists), Romel Robinson (three solos, five assists, one sack, one tackle for loss), Jabari Jones (two solos, four assists, fumble recovery) and Lansdown (one solo, three assists, fumble recovery, pass breakup).
“It was frustrating that we didn’t finish the game [on a high note],” Passolano said. “We didn’t play a full four quarters. We had good field position in [portions of] the second half, but nothing could be done.
“We had too many turnovers in bad positions. You make those mistakes, then it snowballs and you bury yourself. All the teams that have a struggling season go through that.”
Shepard meets Oak Forest in an SSC crossover game on Friday, while Oak Lawn tries to keep its slim postseason hopes alive versus Reavis.
Oak Lawn 0 7 14 0 - 21
Shepard 14 6 0 0 - 20
Yds. rushing 123 198
Yds. passing 41 255
Total yds. 164 453
Att./comp. 9-3 27-17
Fumbles lost 2 1
Had intercepted 0 2
Punts/avg. — 3-15.3
ABS — Emmanuel Williams, 85-yd. run (Edgar Madrigal kick)
ABS — Kyle Dye, 83-yd. pass from Shane Javorski (Madrigal kick)
OL — Ray Howard, 5-yd. run (Adnade Laanati kick)
ABS — Rafael Williams, 18-yd. pass from Javorski (kick failed)
OL — Joe Cosenza, 45-yd. interception return (Laanati kick)
OL — Howard, 1-yd. run (Laanati kick)
Oak Lawn Rushing: Howard 14-82, Norvell 13-47, Lach 5-(-6). Passing: Lach 9-3-41. Receiving: Zurek 3-41.
Shepard Rushing: E. Williams 8-90, Dye 12-75, Jones 5-29, Javorski 6-4. Passing: Javorski 27-17-255. Receiving: Lansdown 6-41, Dye 5-162, R. Williams 4-32.