Bulldogs nip Flyers to earn spot in 6A final
The Class 6A state football title is going to the ’Dogs.
Now, it’s simply a matter of finding out which group of them sports the biggest bite.
Thanksgiving dinner is guaranteed to sate players’ appetites today, but a different kind of hunger will still linger for athletes at both Richards and Batavia high schools. And the only thing that will completely satisfy it is a giant trophy and the title of “state champion.”
Both sets of Bulldogs punched their ticket to Saturday’s 6A finals in DeKalb last weekend, Richards doing so by virtue of a 7-6 verdict over host East St. Louis on Saturday. Batavia, which lost a 31-26 decision to Richards in Week 2 of the regular season, earned a rematch by rolling over Rockford Boylan 38-6.
The two teams will square off at 1 p.m. at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium.
“Twelve weeks later, here we go again,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “What are the odds? But you can’t take for granted that we beat them in Week 2. It’s the state championship now, so everything’s different.”
One thing Sheehan dearly hopes stays exactly the same is his defense, which has allowed just 12 points in four playoff outings and boasts a total of six shutouts this season. Only Batavia and Evergreen Park, in a 35-34 triumph, tallied more than 17 points against the Bulldogs (12-1).
On paper, East St. Louis — which had several NCAA Division I recruits dotting its roster — seemed a strong candidate to join that duo, and the Flyers’ 343 total yards certainly rated as impressive. But a fair amount of that good work was undone by four lost fumbles, a late-game interception and a punt East St. Louis couldn’t properly field.
“Not too many teams from Chicago go down there and come back victorious,” Sheehan said. “[The Flyers] are big, physical and fast. They’ve got guys that are just ballplayers, [but] our defense really, really put us on their shoulders and won this game.
“If you love defense, it was a beauty.”
As has been true in many instances this fall, Richards’ prevention corps featured several heroes; foremost among them this time was Savon Robinson. The senior defensive lineman recorded two sacks, recovered one of East St. Louis’ drops and blocked two punts.
One of the latter occurred in the second quarter and set the Bulldogs up at the Flyers’ 8-yard line. Richards didn’t waste the golden opportunity, as Romeo Johnson scored on a 1-yard plunge and Shawn Chiaramonte added the all-important extra point.
It has been a somewhat difficult campaign for the Bulldogs’ kicker, but he shone here. In addition to supplying the conversion, Chiaramonte was also highly effective as a punter.
“His extra point won the game and he got nice rolls on some kicks — he angled a punt and pinned them down at the 8 one time,” Sheehan said. “The special teams came up big for us and Shawn Chiaramonte was just huge. He really kicked well.”
Richards’ TD didn’t represent its lone threat to East St. Louis, but it was unable to capitalize on other forays into Flyers territory. Part of the reason for that was the hosts’ nine sacks of Bulldogs quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, which resulted in Richards having negative total yardage for the day.
However, Robinson and his defensive mates made sure that didn’t matter, as they continually frustrated East St. Louis as well. The Flyers did score once on Greg Taylor’s 77-yard dash in the second period, but they had another would-be touchdown expunged by a block in the back. They were also turned away without incident a couple other times after traveling fairly deep into the ’Dogs’ side of the field.
Romel Hill (10 tackles), Ramonta Hill (eight stops, fumble recovery), Dylan Jiles (four tackles), Kenny Spey (two fumble recoveries) and Roque Castro (interception) all loomed large on Richards’ behalf along with Robinson. Freshman Pat Doyle, meanwhile, pounced on East St. Louis’ botched punt return.
“Ever since the Evergreen game [in Week 5], they’ve been lights out,” Sheehan said of his defenders. “That was like their wake-up call. They stick together and they play for each other.”
Now, Richards will set its sights on capturing the school’s third state title and first since 1989. The Bulldogs’ last championship-game appearance came in 2001, but ended unsuccessfully when Providence Catholic roughed them up.
East St. Louis prevented Richards from seeing the Celtics in this year’s semifinals, but it couldn’t end the Bulldogs’ quest for supremacy. Only Batavia can, and Sheehan expects those Bulldogs to be even tougher than they were the first time around.
“They’re just more comfortable in what they’re doing and they’re really clicking,” he said of Batavia, which will enter Saturday’s showdown with an 11-game win streak. “They’re explosive and they come at you.
“It was a great game atmosphere there [in Week 2], and I expect their whole town will be there [on Saturday] because they’re not that far from DeKalb.”
That being said, Sheehan wants his guys to focus on completing a run to the crown.
“This was the goal, but to actually be there [means] we’re living a dream,” he said. “Sometimes that’s what happens — you’re satisfied just to get there, but they’re still hungry.
“This is a special group and it’s been amazing, but we’re not done yet. They can see that trophy in front of them and they want to get it.”
Richards 0 7 0 0 - 7
East St. Louis 0 6 0 0 - 6
First downs 2 10
Yds. rushing (-47) 231
Yds. passing 12 112
Total yds. (-35) 343
Att./comp. 12-3 21-7
Fumbles/lost 0-0 4-4
Had intercepted 1 1
Penalties/yds. 4-40 16-110
Punts/avg. 7-32.0 —
HLR — Romeo Johnson, 1-yd. run (Shawn Chiaramonte kick)
ESL — Greg taylor, 77-yd. run (kick failed)
Richards Rushing: Johnson 11-6, Carpenter 1-3, Tears 1-(-1), Muhammad-Rogers 24-(-55). Passing: Muhammad-Rogers 12-3-12. Receiving: Carpenter 1-11, Willett 1-3, Johnson 1-(-2).