Mustangs complete unbeaten season
Call it a perfect nine.
Despite some narrow escapes along the way, Evergreen Park completed its first unbeaten regular season in 19 years by downing Reavis 50-13 Friday night in Burbank. The outcome of the South Suburban Conference Red contest deprived the Rams of a postseason berth, while the Mustangs garnered the No. 1 seed in the upper bracket of the 32-school Class 4A tournament field.
Evergreen, which reigned as the outright SSC Red champion, hosts Richmond-Burton Saturday night in a first-round playoff game. This will be the third consecutive year the two squads have squared off against each other in the tourney, with the upcoming tilt representing the rubber game between them.
The Rockets will enter the latest confrontation with a 5-4 ledger, but Mustangs coach Dan Hartman quickly dismissed any talk that the mark automatically made R-B a decided underdog.
“Throw the record out the window with those guys,” he said. “They’re a perennial power in 4A, and they’re always right there in the quarters and semis. They’ve been here before, so they know what it takes [to prosper] in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter what they did in the regular season.”
As for Evergreen’s securing of the top seed, Hartman was equally unfazed.
“I think we had the bull’s-eye on us before this, but the road’s never easy,” he said. “You’ve got to string together four wins over four good teams to get to DeKalb, and you’ve got to win some road games. Hopefully, we can stay on a little roll.”
The Mustangs (9-0, 6-0) got on a big one against Reavis shortly after the Rams had forged a 7-7 tie in the opening quarter on quarterback Jose Romero’s 1-yard keeper. Once that happened, Evergreen answered with an uninterrupted 40-point blitz. Thirty-four of those points were collected prior to halftime.
And again, Jacquet McClendon was the ringleader of a potent Mustangs attack. This time, the senior receiver caught five Sean Ryan throws for a whopping 240 yards and four touchdowns. McClendon tallied on passing plays that covered 17, 58, 34 and 89 yards.
“Guys like him don’t come along very often,” Hartman said. “You’ve got to definitely make the most out of it and get the ball in his hands in every way you can.
“We found some matchups on the outside we liked and we were able to take advantage of them.”
Were they ever. While McClendon was Evergreen’s indisputable go-to guy, other Mustangs also got involved in the rout.
Kerron Brown caught a 9-yard throw from Ryan for another TD and tailback Keyshawn Carpenter provided offensive balance with 177 rushing yards on just eight carries. One of Carpenter’s totes resulted in a 36-yard touchdown.
As for Ryan, all he did was complete 10-of-15 passes for 355 yards while continuing to be a sturdy stand-in for former starter Jonathan O’Brien, who was injured in Evergreen’s Week 5 victory over Richards.
“The physical abilities have never been the issue for him,” Hartman said of Ryan. “Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to go with another quarterback, but he keeps on getting better. He’s making all the right reads and throwing the ball well.”
While Evergreen’s offense understandably attracted plenty of attention for its potent performance versus Reavis, not to be ignored was the Mustangs’ prevention crew’s solid work. The Rams did tally once more on Isaiah Alpuche’s 11-yard run, but they were also victimized by five interceptions.
Mike Rizzo led Evergreen’s good-hands people with a pair of pickoffs. Tim Walsh, Isaac Matthews and LaShon Johnson each swiped one Romero pass.
“I think we finally started putting everything together,” said Hartman, whose squad reached the 50-point plateau and won handily for the second week in a row after engaging in a series of earlier nail-biters.
“Now, it’s on to a new season and we’ll see what we can do.”
If the Mustangs are able to defeat Richmond-Burton, there’s a good chance they’ll earn a rematch with Phillips. The Wildcats lost to Evergreen in Week 2 of the regular schedule, but fell by only three points.
“It’s tough to beat a team twice in the same year,” Hartman said. “For us, it’s just not going to work out any other way [if we both win this weekend].”
• Marist 48, Moline 26: Touchdowns on their first four possessions got the RedHawks off and running against the Maroons Friday night, and they went on to log a lopsided nonconference victory on the road.
Showing no ill effects from a three-hour bus ride to its destination, Marist (6-3) quickly smacked Moline with a trio of Jack Donegan scoring passes that went to three different targets. Nic Weishar (9 yards), Flynn Nagel (24 yards) and Ahmad Neal (28 yards) all made TD catches in the early going, and Peter Andreotti also tallied on a 22-yard run.
“It was definitely a good offensive night,” RedHawks coach Pat Dunne said. “A lot of guys contributed, and we were very excited to put back-to-back [good games] together.”
Marist could have been ripe for a letdown following an emotional Week 8 triumph over Benet Academy, a win that made the RedHawks playoff eligible for a sixth straight season. The combination of a long journey and struggling opponent — the Maroons were 1-7 entering the contest — offered the scent of trouble, but Marist refused to fall victim to it.
Thanks to a RedHawks defense that held Moline without a first down during the latter’s first three possessions of the evening, the hosts never realistically posed a threat to Marist’s welfare. Still, Dunne didn’t want his guys to relax once the hefty lead had been constructed.
“The challenge is in not staying the same, but getting better,” he said. “We told our guys, ‘Let’s go out and get on ‘em quick,’ and I was excited about the energy and physical play our guys came out with and kept playing with.”
JaWill Aldridge’s 5-yard dash increased the RedHawks’ edge to 34-6 by intermission, and he struck again during the second half with a 19-yard scoring run. In between Aldridge’s touchdowns, Barrett Callaghan supplied one with his 3-yard blast.
Although Marist enters the Class 8A playoffs with only a half-dozen wins, it received a first-round home game. The RedHawks host Plainfield South Friday night in Mount Greenwood.
“A couple years ago, we were [also] 6-3 and hosted,” Dunne said. “A lot of it has to do with playoff points, and I think the tough schedule [we played] worked in our favor.”
Marist will enter the postseason with some definite momentum in hand, but Dunne isn’t counting on that making much of a difference.
“The last two weeks, I’m very proud of what we’ve done,” he said. “But no one cares [now about] what you did before.”
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