Evergreen Park's senior moments help rock Oak Lawn

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

For a second or two, a referee is able to match Evergreen Park’s Jalen Lynch stride-for-stride but Lynch passed the ref and the Oak Lawn defense in a 61-yard run in the Mustangs’ 49-24 shocker over Oak Lawn Friday night. 


Four years ago, Evergreen Park’s current seniors arrived expecting one thing, and in the seasons since have mostly gotten something else.

Friday, Oak Lawn visited the Mustangs expecting to make a bit of history, but may have instead become a page in someone else’s scrapbook.

With a wild, 49-24 win on Senior Night, Evergreen Park may not have stolen the Spartans’ mantle as a South Suburban Red team on the rise. But at the very least, the Mustangs, whose seniors saw their forebears go 10-1 when they were eighth graders and reach the 4A semifinals the year before that, sense a reversal of fortunes that had them sliding from 6-4 to consecutive records of 3-6 their sophomore and junior seasons. With Friday’s win, they improved to 3-5 overall, won their first conference battle and broke a five-game losing streak but are not eligible for the Illinois High School Association playoffs.

“We’re not going to make it this year, but in a couple of years we’ll be back in the playoffs,” senior defensive lineman Robert Hicks said. “I feel like our program has definitely taken a step in the right direction.”

“Starting with this game, this is the start of our program — we’re going to be good in the future,” senior wideout Bomani Robinson said. “We lost our playoffs, we wanted to take theirs.”

Indeed, Evergreen Park may have dealt a death blow to the postseason hopes of the Spartans (4-4, 2-3). Oak Lawn last won five games in 2009, the last of its eight playoff berths in the school’s 64 seasons of football.

Now, the Spartans have to beat crosstown rival Richards (6-2, 5-0) to even be considered for an at-large berth, which are awarded based on opponent wins — and Oak Lawn entered the week tied for the lowest such total in its conference.

“We’re making progress,” said third-year Spartans coach Nick Novak, whose first two teams went 1-8 and 3-6. “But sometimes you move a boulder, sometimes a little pebble.”

Evergreen Park rocked it on this occasion. Though Oak Lawn rallied from a 21-7 deficit last year to beat them, this time the Mustangs barely blinked when their 21-3 lead at the 8:27 mark of the third quarter turned into 24-21 deficit 6 1/2 minutes later.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback Jack Manso connected on a deep ball up the hash marks to Trevon Woods, who turned it into a 35-yard touchdown. It was the third touchdown pass of the day for Manso (9-of-19, 277 yards) and gave Evergreen Park the lead for good.

“Jack comes out and plays like he wants to win,” said Robinson, who had touchdown catches of 31 and 24 yards among his six grabs for 172 yards. “He acts more like a senior than most of us on the team.”

In less than five minutes, Evergreen scored three times more to end the suspense: on a 2-yard run by Dave Torres after Oak Lawn botched a punt snap; an eight-yard Myron Harris run; and a 10-yard interception return from Karlton Carpenter.

“It was a perfect Senior Night,” Manso said. “It was the seniors’ last game here.  I love to play good for them — I didn’t want to ruin it for them.”

Manso didn’t, guiding a surprisingly vertical passing attack.

“We haven’t passed in the past like that,” Manso said. “Today, we saw no safety back, so we figured, ‘Hey, let’s throw the ball deep.’”

“We took what they gave us,” EP coach Jerry Verde said. “And they were giving us Bomani on the outside.”

It was probably in an effort to slow Jalen Lynch. The senior running back took Evergreen’s first play from scrimmage 61 yards for a touchdown and finished his day with 180 yards on 18 carries.

Robinson’s first scoring grab, with 4:45 left in the first quarter, made it 14-0. Donal Nugent had a 38-yard field goal to cut it to 14-3 early in the second.

It was 21-3 when the Spartans rallied, scoring on a 56-yard screen pass from Mark Virruso to Nick Puente, a 55-yard return of a blocked field goal by Jalan Gaines and a 10-yard interception return by Jaime Marinez.

Puente, who went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season, finished with 112 tough yards on 27 carries. Virruso went 10-of-19 for 107 yards, but in the Spartans’ option game managed only three yards on the ground.

“Our key was stop (Puente),” Robinson said. “Our next key was stop the quarterback. Read the option, flow to the ball.”

The Mustangs finish their season at Tinley Park. Verde, who won the 2012 6A title at Crete-Monee before moving to his alma mater, Marian Catholic, for three seasons, is grateful for the steps his team has taken in two seasons at Evergreen Park.

“I wish we were playing to get to the playoffs, but we’re not,” Verde said. “Still, these kids have been great. They show up to do the work every day. We’re in a great community that’s really supportive of us — I mean, Week 8, no playoff hopes, the kind of crowd we had, that’s impressive — I feel blessed to be here, truly.”


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- High school football changes could be afoot

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



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Photo by Jeff Vorva

A proposal could be in the works that would allow football teams with two or more wins into the playoffs. That would help a team like Evergreen Park, pictured, which enters the final week of the season with a 3-5 mark and no shot at the playoffs. 



Food for thought for those who aren’t very hungry…

While it’s not official yet, word is that come November, the Illinois High School Association will listen to a proposal that would drastically changes the landscape of playoff football.

The idea is that there will be an eight-week regular season instead of nine and that any team with two wins or more gets in. Currently teams that win their conference, win six games or some teams who win five games and are subject to a tiebreaker (most opponents wins) get in.

Those 0-8 or 1-7 teams can optionally schedule each other in Week 9 for an extra game.


I can’t tell you how different that would be. We would be starting the playoffs this weekend and a bunch of 8-0 teams would be opening up with 2-6 opponents. There might be some intriguing 4-4 teams playing each other.

I don’t like it or hate it. But it would be a huge shock to the system.

Coaches and athletic directors are getting sick of the problems caused by non-conference scheduling and letting in almost everybody would alleviate some of those problems. Some of the powerhouses might actually find teams in Illinois to play instead of going to other states. Some teams might decide to play tougher non-conference teams rather than bakery pastries without fear of missing the playoffs.

If this proposal goes on the books next month, one expert doesn’t think it will be passed this year.

Tim O’Halloran, also known as Edgy Tim, who is a high school guru on his own website and Comcast, or NBC Sports Chicago or whatever the heck they call themselves these days, told WJOL radio that November might be too late for principals across the state to agree on this, but it could be in play for the 2019 season.

Stay tuned. A year two from now, we could be getting ready for the first round of the playoffs rather than the last week of the regular season.

 I told you so…

Looking back at my preseason baseball picks, I had the Cubs pulling off unlikely back-to-back titles and beating Houston in the World Series.

Heading into this week’s action, I am still able to brag about those picks.

Some of my other brilliant picks? Well…not so brilliant.

I had Boston winning the American League East (yaaaay) but Baltimore as a wild card (booo).

I had Detroit winning the Central (argh) with Cleveland as a wild card (ehhh). And I had Houston winning the West (yaaaaay again!).

In the National League, I had the Cubs winning the Central (yaaay some more) and St. Louis to take a wild card spot (Cubs fans are cheering I got that one wrong). I thought the New York Mets would win the East (yikes!) and the San Francisco Giants to win the West (double yikes!) and Los Angeles to nail the second wild card slot.

Oh, and did I tell you I had the Cubs and Houston in the World Series?

IHSA geography 101

It’s always easy to make fun of the way the IHSA divvies up its postseason tournaments and meets by geography but this one is a doozy. And I don’t even like the word “doozy.’’

Sandburg’s girls tennis team played at the Shepard Sectional and singles events were held at Moraine Valley Community College on Friday while doubles were held at Shepard. Most schools do that. They don’t have enough room to accommodate all the matches, so they go to two sites.

Andrew also held a sectional and split into two sites.  One was at the Andrew campus in Tinley Park. The other was at -- you guessed it – Sandburg.

So Sandburg players left the school for a sectional and while their bus passed the Sandburg court, there was another sectional being played right at their own digs.



Marist states case by routing previously unbeaten Nazareth

  • Written by Phil Arvia


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

From left, Aiden Hackett, Gavin McCabe and Delonte Harrell celebrate Harrell’s first quarter touchdown in Marist's 42-0 win over previously unbeaten Nazareth.



For weeks, Marist’s football players had heard the refrain:

“You haven’t played anybody,” junior defensive back Charlie Laurencell recited.

The RedHawks, outwardly, shrugged. But the argument had at least some merit. Only one of their first six foes had a winning record and the last four — victims by a combined 206-47 — had but four wins between them through six weeks.

“No disrespect to our opponents,” quarterback Mike Markett said. “We beat everybody they put in front of us.”

Friday, the schedule put a Somebody, fellow unbeaten and East Suburban Catholic co-leader Nazareth, in front of the Redhawks and Marist ran over the Roadrunners 42-0 in Chicago.

“To go up against a 6-0 team and beat them by 42, that’s one of the best feelings ever,” said Laurencell, who capped the RedHawks’ 28-point first half by diving into the end zone with a 27-yard interception return. “But we know we’ve got more work to do.”

Nazareth coach Tim Racki, for one, is convinced the RedHawks will be working deep into the postseason.

“They’re going to make a long run in the playoffs,” Racki, who coached Nazareth to the 6A state title in 2014, said. “I give all the credit to Marist. It got away from us because that’s a great 8A playoff team over there — they just keep coming at you with their speed and strength.”

Nazareth, with wins over De La Salle, Carmel of Mundelein and Benet Academy, sported a worthy resume and a stingy defense that had allowed an average of 9.6 points per game after starting the season with a forfeit win over Dunbar. But the Roadrunners were no match for the multi-pronged Marist attack.

After driving 72 yards to Marist's eight with their first possession -- and having nothing to show for it but a missed 25-yard field goal attempt -- the Roadrunners fumbled away their only other trip to the Marist red zone.

“They’ve got a powerful line, tremendous skill,” Racki said. “You stop something, they come at you with something else.”

“We like to take what they give us, move fast and step on their throats,” Market said.

Against Nazareth, the first step belonged to Delonte Harrell (20 carries, 102 yards, 3 touchdowns). Harrell scored the RedHawks’ first two touchdowns, a seven-yarder to cap a game-opening drive in which he carried seven times in 12 snaps, and a one-yarder to finish an eight-play drive in which he had five runs.

Markett (10 carries, 105 yards) didn’t find the end zone himself, but while going 9-of-14 for 156 yards he did manage touchdown passes to T.J. Ivy and Jadon Thompson.

Ivy, a West Virginia-bound tight end, bashed his way in from 13 yards out to make it 21-0 with 3:10 to play in the second quarter.

“We can be as good as we want to be,” Ivy, a 6-foot-5, 229-pound senior, said. “We have a lot of weapons. We create mismatches.

“Nobody is going to be able to stop us as long as we play like we can.”

Thompson, a sophomore, got his first touch of the night in the third quarter, when Markett hit him in stride on a deep route over the middle, and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown — his seventh score of the season.

The final Marist touchdown came on a one-yard Harrell run with 5:28 left in the third quarter. A running clock ended Nazareth’s misery quickly thereafter.

For the game, Marist outgunned Nazareth 416-253. The Roadrunners were forced to the air early, quarterback Bobby Grimes finishing 10-of-26 for 158 yards.

“Our guys, they’d heard all that stuff about not being challenged yet,” first year Marist coach Ron Dawczak said. “They were looking forward to this game all week. That was huge.” 

The RedHawks have another tough opponent as they visit Benet (5-2, 4-1) Friday. The RedHawks have not won in Lisle since a 17-14 triumph in 2011.



Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- Florida volleyball team escapes serious wrath of Hurricane Irma

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Volleyball players from Berkeley Prep, here celebrating a Silver Division quarterfinal victory at the ASICS Tournament at Mother McAuley on Oct. 1, feel lucky that Hurricane Irma didn’t do much damage to them. 


Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria didn’t have an agenda.

They didn’t pick and choose who they were going to destroy and kill. They didn’t have a say in who was going to be lucky and who was going to be spared.

All they did was blow through Texas and Florida in the United States and messed up some other countries as well.

And they let the chips fall where they may.

Coaches and players of the Berkeley Prep volleyball team from Tampa, Fla., had their world turned upside down for a brief time in mid-September. They were bracing for a monster storm and feared for their lives and property on Sept. 10 when the storm was scheduled to hit.

Instead of a monster crushing them, they received the equivalent of a bully kicking them in the shins.

Sure it hurt.

But look at the TV.

Look what happened in Miami.

Look what happened in Houston.

Look what happened in Puerto Rico.

The team spent a weekend in the area and won the Silver Division championship of the ASICS Challenge at Mother McAuley on Sept.30-Oct. 1. For the coaches and players on this team, life has returned to normal.

“I feel so lucky,” Berkeley senior Anders Douglas said. “Compared to everyone else, I feel so fortunate. I have a friend in Puerto Rico and he was telling me how awful it is over there. His dad has an office building with a generator and he’s been living in the office all this time.’’

First-year coach Mackenzie Dagostino, who has come to the ASICS Challenge at McAuley  as a player, took over the program for her dad, Randy, who won 849 matches and 15 state championships. It’s likely her father had some crazy weeks in his time, but even Pop might not have gone through the strange type if week after Irma hit.

The school had a few busted shingles, but because of the damage throughout the area, there was no school for most of the following week. That meant there was no practice. And the team was hosting a tournament with national teams including Walton High of Georgia, which, at the time was ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps. The team was able to get one practice in before the tourney and eventually finished second, losing to Walton 25-16, 25-18.

Dagostino didn’t have power in her house for six days.

 “The first couple of days aren’t that bad – you have ice and you have food on ice and plenty of water,” she said. “But the longer people went without power, the more they panicked. You definitely saw that in the area. People were actually chasing after ice trucks.

“At the end of the day, we all made it through without power. There are ways to get around it. There were a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches consisting of our meals.’’

Players were encouraged to stay as fit as they could during the dramatic week.

“We still had to stay active, even in the house,” Douglas said. “I had to make sure I was still in shape when we came back. We were supposed to be off for two days but the closer the hurricane got, the track was supposed to come right over our campus, so it ended up being five days.

“I was able to run outside before the rain came. Once we had to stay inside, I did a lot of squats and jumps.’’

Tampa did get plenty of damage but it woulda-coulda-shoulda been worse.

The town is living a relatively charmed life. It has not suffered a direct hit from a hurricane that is Cartgory 3 or higher since 1921.

Hurricanes may not have an agenda, but they don’t seem to want to mess around with Tampa too much.


Marist wins ESCC, er, ASICS Classic

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist’s volleyball team was cheering all day Saturday after winning the ASICS Challenge.

The ASICS Challenge brings in 24 girls volleyball teams from across the country.

But this year, it could have been renamed the ESCC Challenge.

Three members of the East Suburban Catholic Conference gobbled up spots in the final four of the tournament along with Assumption of Kentucky, which was ranked first in the nation in a Sept. 20 poll by USA Today and second in its Sept. 27 poll.

When the smoke cleared, it was fourth-seeded Marist which won its first ASICS title after an 18-25, 25-13, 26-24 victory over ESCC rival Joliet Catholic Academy Saturday at Mother McAuley High School. The RedHawks, which improved to 23-1 with the victory, were down 24-20 in the final set and came back to score six straight against the 10th-seeded Angels for the title. The RedHawks also trailed 11-4 at one point in that deciding set.

The two powers were scheduled to face each other again Tuesday night in Joliet.

Top-seeded Assumption beat the ESCC’s Marian Catholic 25-21, 25-21 in the third-place game.

“You probably wouldn’t expect the conference having three teams in the final four ahead of time with all the teams that are here,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “This says a lot about our conference. That doesn’t even include a team like Benet and other big-time teams who are not in this tournament.

“The fact that we play each other throughout the season gives us the type of preparation for these kind of matches that maybe some of the other conferences don’t.’’

Savannah Thompson, who made the all-tournament team, had 15 kills and 18 digs against Marian while Maggie Meyer had 19 kills, Grace Green came up with 18 digs and Molly Murrihy had 42 assists and four blocks. Katie Canavan put on a serving show with well-timed aces in the final set.

The championship showdown was set up by an even more impressive accomplishment when the RedHawks stunned Assumption, 25-16, 25-20 in the semifinals. Assumption won the ASICS tournament 13 times.

Marist is the third team from Illinois to claim the title. McAuley won it five times including last year and Cary-Grove won it in 2010.

McAuley finished fifth after being upset by Joliet Catholic, 25-18, 25-22 in the quarterfinals. Charley

Niego was named to the all-tournament team.

Sandburg, which was seeded 21st, claimed a pool victory over 12th-seeded Downers Grove North and finished as the silver consolation champion – 13th.

Teams were represented from Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Wisconsin, Utah, California and Florida.