Mustangs down R-B to move on in playoffs
The Rockets were left sitting on the launching pad Saturday night.
Evergreen Park saw to that by never allowing visiting Richmond-Burton to hold a lead in the teams’ first-round Class 4A playoff contest. The two are familiar foes, having met in each of the past three postseasons, but the Mustangs now own a 2-1 series edge after knocking off the Rockets 33-17.
The win was Evergreen’s sixth in tournament play since Dan Hartman became its head coach in 2011. That’s one more than the Mustangs garnered in all of their previous playoff appearances combined.
But while current goals are understandably sky-high at Evergreen, Hartman felt that for portions of Saturday’s encounter, his club’s execution didn’t square with expectations.
“It kind of unfolded the way I thought it would, but it was a little bit closer [on the scoreboard] than it probably should have been,” Hartman said of the game. “We had some chances to make some plays, and we didn’t.
“We didn’t have the best week of practice, and I thought we were a little sloppy coming out. I think maybe the kids were a little overconfident, knowing we had beaten [R-B] last year and looking at their [5-4] record. But I think they know now that if we do that again, we might be watching [the rest of the playoffs] from home.”
A vivid example of the Mustangs’ failure to fully capitalize on opportunities presented them was found in the opening period. Already ahead 7-0 on Eric Gurrister’s 23-yard touchdown reception that successfully capped its first series, Evergreen (10-0) was back on the threshold of the Rockets’ goal line one possession later.
But after reaching the 2-yard line, the Mustangs got turned away when an R-B player intercepted Sean Ryan’s pass in his own end zone for a touchback. To make matters worse for Evergreen, the Rockets then embarked on a long drive that concluded with a 23-yard Sergio Hernandez field goal.
“With the type of offense they play, it’s all about ball control,” Hartman said of R-B, “but it’s always a little disconcerting when [a sustained march] happens. We missed a couple assignments and they hit us over the top with a couple passes, which had me a little concerned about our pass coverage.”
Whatever momentum the visitors might have gained from that sequence of events, however, never materialized into anything greater. The Rockets were unable to add to their total over the remainder of the opening half, and the Mustangs finally stretched out their lead to 13-3 before the break on the first of two Jacquet McClendon TD catches.
The senior followed up his 69-yard grab with one that covered 51 yards and resulted in another score on Evergreen’s initial series of the third period. McClendon finished with 149 yards on six receptions and offered the perfect complement to Keyshawn Carpenter’s ground-gaining exploits.
The latter also tallied twice while accumulating 260 rushing yards on 28 carries. Carpenter scored once on an 11-yard run, the other time on an 8-yard catch. His blocking escorts included Nick Knieps, Brennan Quick, Joe Piet, David Ziebarth and Zach Rogers.
Carpenter’s pair of six-pointers wound up being necessary, as R-B refused to roll over quietly. A 61-yard aerial strike from Dan Rygiel to Luke Brinkman reduced the visitors’ deficit to 19-10 during the third stanza, then Nick Bianchini blocked a Mustangs punt and returned it 2 yards to keep the Rockets within 25-17.
Evergreen’s ability to survive the R-B test advanced it into Round 2 against Phillips, which blasted Urban Prep Charter/West 45-12 in its postseason debut. The Wildcats and Mustangs met in Week 2 of the regular season, where the latter prevailed by just three points.
That close call, though nerve-wracking at the time it happened, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Our kids know we very easily could have lost that first game,” Hartman said, “so I don’t think they will be overlooking these guys. [Phillips is] just as big as any team we’ve seen and just as fast as any team we’ve seen.”
The Wildcats will present a much different challenge to Evergreen than did R-B, especially with their quick-strike capabilities. But just as was true of the Rockets, Phillips shouldn’t have too much pressure placed on it, seeing as how it will probably wear the underdog tag heading into the second-round contest.
As for the Mustangs, Hartman doesn’t want his athletes to dwell on anything except what’s directly in front of them.
“We’re trying to win four games to get to state, but we’re really taking it one game at a time,” Hartman said. “We’ve just got to go 1-0 this week.”
Evergreen and the Wildcats will tangle Saturday afternoon at Gately Stadium.
Richmond-Burton 3 0 7 7 - 17
Evergreen Park 7 6 12 8 - 33
EP — Eric Gurrister, 23-yd. pass from Sean Ryan (Matt Schulte kick)
RB — Sergio Hernandez, 23-yd. field goal
EP — Jacquet McClendon, 69-yd. pass from Ryan (conversion failed)
EP — McClendon, 51-yd. pass from Ryan (conversion failed)
RB — Luke Brinkman, 61-yd. pass from Dan Rygiel (Hernandez kick)
EP — Keyshawn Carpenter, 11-yd. run (conversion failed)
RB — Nick Bianchini, 2-yd. return of blocked punt (Hernandez kick)
EP — Carpenter, 8-yd. pass from Ryan (Carpenter run)
Evergreen Park Rushing: Carpenter 28-260. Receiving: McClendon 6-149.