Bulldogs brave elements, slip past Phoenix in OT
Halfway through Saturday night’s Class 6A quarterfinal versus Lincoln-Way North, Richards was down and dirty.
The second part of that description never changed, as rain and high winds combined to make Korhonen Field sloppy and all those who trod upon it a mess. But the Bulldogs took care of the “down” before it became an “out.”
A 6-0 lead the Phoenix had taken near the end of the first quarter still held up as the minutes rolled off the fourth-period clock. Staring playoff elimination in the face, Richards managed to avoid it by forcing overtime, which quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers did when he raced 19 yards into the Lincoln-Way North end zone with just 1:42 remaining.
Then in the extra session, Muhammad-Rogers struck again. His 10-yard keeper featured the junior signal-caller breaking a tackle and receiver Ryan Willett throwing a critical block for him, and that touchdown — which followed Tacari Carpenter’s batting down of a Phoenix field-goal try — lifted the Bulldogs to a 12-6 victory that put them in the state semifinals for the first time in 12 years.
Richards (11-1) will square off with East St. Louis Sr. Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. The Flyers nipped Providence Catholic 27-26 in another quarterfinal matchup last weekend.
“It’s no easy task going down there,” Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan said of his squad’s impending trip. “They’re very athletic and very physical, but you’re in the semis, so you strap it up a little tighter and go at it.
“It’s one more step and it’s great to get there, but our kids aren’t satisfied with just being there. To be the elite [team], we’ve got two more steps [to take].”
One thing the ’Dogs will bring with them to East St. Louis is a defense that Sheehan says “probably ranks up there with the best ones of all time at Richards.” The Bulldogs have posted six shutouts this season and allowed just one TD in three tournament encounters.
Lincoln-Way North entered last Saturday’s game with the south suburbs’ most prolific ground gainer, Julian Hylton, on its side. Through 11 weeks, Hylton had rushed for 2,395 yards and scored 32 touchdowns, but the harm he inflicted upon Richards was minimal.
Hylton never crossed the goal line against the Bulldogs, and the 127 yards he collected on 47 carries were actually 1 more than the net amount generated by the Phoenix’s offense overall.
“They were gang-tackling him all night,” Sheehan said, describing his players’ approach to dealing with Hylton. “I’m proud of what these guys have accomplished.”
Romel Hill and Kenny Spey both posted nine tackles to lead Richards, and the latter also registered a couple sacks. Savon Robinson (eight total stops, one sack), Andrew Venerable (seven tackles) and Nick DeMarco (five) were other impact players for the Bulldogs on the prevention side.”
Still, it was Lincoln-Way North drawing the only blood over the first 46 minutes. Ryan Arthur’s 1-yard keeper gave the Phoenix their TD, and the visitors’ defense made that slim edge hold up as it rebuffed Richards twice in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs’ best chance for a breakthrough before halftime occurred in the late going, as they ventured inside the Lincoln-Way North 15. However, a penalty pushed Richards backwards and the hosts eventually ran out of downs.
“That wind was really whipping from south to north, and it was a game of field position,” said Sheehan, whose club had the wind at its back during the even-numbered stanzas. “Against the wind, neither one of us really threatened.
“It was a defensive struggle and kind of anybody’s game [because of that]. With Mother Nature, you had to play to the conditions and I decided to take the wind in the fourth quarter, hoping we could keep it to 6-zip [until then].”
The Bulldogs did exactly that, although the Phoenix advanced into Richards’ red zone in the third period. That drive ended with an errant field-goal attempt. Lincoln-Way North had also come up empty once in the opening half when an apparent TD got erased by a holding penalty, which was, ironically, the lone infraction called against the Phoenix all evening.
“It was tough at times, but there was no sense of panic [by our guys],” Sheehan said. “Luckily, our kids persevered.
“We talk about playing 48 minutes, and the kids really took it to heart. Lincoln-Way North is a very, very good team and they played very well, but it’s about surviving and moving on [at this time of year], which is basically what we did.”
The Bulldogs prevailed despite generating fewer than 180 yards themselves. Romeo Johnson’s 55 rushing yards paced Richards in that category, while Carpenter caught four of Muhammad-Rogers’ seven pass completions for 33 yards in pickups. Willett had two receptions for 32 yards.
L-W North 6 0 0 0 0 - 6
Richards 0 0 0 6 6 - 12
First downs 8 9
Yds. rushing 125 94
Yds. passing 1 77
Total yds. 126 171
Att./comp. 6-2 22-7
Fumbles/lost 1-1 0-0
Had intercepted 0 1
Penalties/yds. 1-7 4-30
Punts/avg. 6-26.8 8-26.5
LWN — Ryan Arthur, 1-yd. run (kick failed)
HLR — Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, 19-yd. run (run failed)
HLR — Muhammad-Rogers, 10-yd. run (no conversion)
Richards Rushing: Johnson 11-55, Muhammad-Rogers 17-40, Carpenter 1-(-1). Passing: Muhammad-Rogers 22-7-77. Receiving: Carpenter 4-33, Willett 2-32, Tears 1-12.