Smart and his 'little brother' help St. Laurence beat Crete

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fayezon Smart gives a nonchalant reaction after a first-half score. He later scored the winning TD in a 41-40 playoff stunner over Crete-Monee. 


When you grow up on the south edge of Bronzeville, near where the Dan Ryan clips the edge of Englewood, having just two catches in 10 games after transferring into St. Laurence from Leo does not constitute hard times.

Spending most of the first half watching while your teammates fall behind 27-14 to Crete-Monee in a Class 6A doesn’t quite reach that level, either.

But it does get your attention when your coach texts you in the middle of the week.

“He texted me out of the blue,” KeShawn Douglas said. “It was nighttime. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what could he possibly want?’”

Coach Harold Blackmon wanted Douglas to be ready, telling him, “You’re going to get an opportunity.”

The junior wide receiver got more than one, catching touchdown passes of 44, 28 and 32 yards in the second half as 12th-seeded St. Laurence stunned No. 4 Crete-Monee 41-40 Saturday in Burbank in a second-round Class 6A playoff contest. The Vikings (8-3 and the last area team still alive in the Illinois High School Association playoffs) will host top-seeded Lemont (11-0) a 42-10, second-round winner over Danville, in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“He’s fast and we saw on film they’d have a tough time with our outside receivers,” Blackmon said of Crete-Monee (8-3), which was the 6A runner-up a year ago. “Last week I told KeShawn, ‘Just keep working.’”

Douglas has known little else since transferring in January to St. Laurence.

“I had a rough start,” he said. “My grades, I come from a rough part of town … just a bunch of stuff. I made a whole (180-degree turn). I’m just glad I came to St. Laurence.”

Before he made the decision to transfer, Douglas called Fayezon Smart, a senior, the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher and, like Douglas, a graduate of the Hayes Park Blitz program.

“That’s my little brother,” Smart, who lives in Englewood not far from Douglas, said. “I told him it was going to be a big transition. He wasn’t going to be the only guy on the team. He wasn’t going to start.

“He got here and he changed around big time. We can’t let where we come from bring us down.”

Nor were the Vikings willing to let the Warriors do so. Though Crete-Monee dominated time of possession and outgained St. Laurence 513 yards to 387, the Vikings solved the Warriors when it mattered most.

Smart (21 carries, 159 yards) kept them in it early, dancing to a 63-yard score on the Vikings’ first offensive play after Crete-Monee drove 80 yards in 5:07 for a touchdown after the game’s opening kick. Smart evened things again with a one-yard score in the second quarter after Crete went ahead 14-7 on a 35-yard touchdown punt return by Kevin Pate, who also had 10 receptions for 184 yards and two scores — both of those coming in the second quarter as the Warriors took a 27-14 edge to intermission.

Over the next 17 minutes, Douglas and quarterback Romello Washington (14-of-23, 254 yards) traded touchdowns with the Warriors. But, with under three minutes left and nursing a 40-35 lead, Crete-Monee attempted just its second punt of the game.

The snap sailed over Pate’s head, and he was dropped for a 35-yard loss after tracking the ball down. Taking over at the 8-yard line and benefitting three snaps later from a pass interference call in the end zone, the Vikings took their first lead of the game when Smart bulled over from four yards out with 1:44 to play.

“We just don’t give up,” Smart said.

For the second week in a row, St. Laurence pulled out a win with a fourth-quarter comeback. Its first-round win came by a 31-28 count over Richards after trailing with less than five minutes to play.

“The Vikings don’t make it easy,” Blackmon said. “But we don’t quit. We don’t work like that, we don’t think like that.”

A win over Lemont would put the Vikings in the state semifinals for the second year in a row after they reached the 5A final four in 2015.

“That’s a great team, well-coached,” Blackmon said. “It’s not an easy road we’re on. But it’s not supposed to be.''


Schwarber, er, Burnette helps spark St. Laurence over RIchards

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence defensive back Jimmy Burnette is all smiles on the sideline after hauling down an interception late in a 31-28 win over Richards.

St. Laurence defensive back Jimmy Burnette laughed and said “a little bit’’ when a reporter asked if he would compare himself to Kyle Schwarber.

Schwarber is the Cubs slugger who hits Babe Ruthian-like home runs but spent almost all of 2016 on the shelf injured until he was activated for the World Series, much to the delight of his teammates.

Burnette had nine interceptions as a junior in 2015 and missed most of this season when he suffered a grade 2 right knee sprain in the second half of a 63-49 loss to Class 3A power Immaculate Conception in Week 2 and played a little in a 16-9 loss to St. Ignatius to close the regular season.

But he was back starting on Saturday and back to his old tricks as he had a huge interception in the final the final four minutes in the fourth quarter of a game that saw the lead ping-pong back and forth and the Vikings hung on for a 31-28 upset win over Richards Saturday in the first round of the Illinois High School Association playoffs in Oak Lawn. The Vikings (7-3) host defending Class 6A state champion Crete-Monee at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“I started therapy six days after I got injured,” Burnette said. “I didn’t think I would have this big of an impact on the game. I imagined it was going to be an emotional impact where I would pick everyone up. I tried to do that for the team even when I was injured.

“They told me I could be back in six-to-eight weeks and I tried to be optimistic. So did the trainers, the coaches and my parents. They were all supportive.’’

“That interception really helped us,” said running back Fayezon Smart, who missed four weeks with injury issues of his own and scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown with 4:58 left. “We both said we were going to make some big plays in this game.’’

Smart finished with 77 yards on 21 carries while quarterback Romello Washington ran for 55 yards and a touchdown and threw for 227 yards and two TDs, including a 53-yard scoring completion to Alex Saunders.

Richards was led by sophomore Derek Flowers, who had 108 yards and three touchdowns while quarterback Jake Moran threw for 145 yards for the Bulldogs (7-3).

Since finishing second in the state Class 6A in 2013, the Bulldogs have almost made season ending heartbreaking losses on their own field an art form.

They lost 19-13 to Lemont in the quarterfinals in 2014 and 17-10 in overtime to Lincoln-Way North in the second round and now this three-point loss in the first round. A 47-yard field goal attempt by Andrew Calderon to tie the game fell short with 24 seconds left.

“This hurts,” said senior receiver Nathan Gimza. “This is worse than the other two because it’s my last game.’

“I feel sick to my stomach for my seniors,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “They played their heart and soul out for four years and this is a bad way to go out.’’


Brother Rice ready for 'Part 2'

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photo by  Jeff Vorva 

Branden Houston had 10 catches and two touchdowns for Brother Rice, who lost in a shootout to Loyola on Friday night in a battle for the Catholic League Blue title.


There were no tears, no anguished cries, really no need for Brian Badke to say what the Brother Rice football players kneeling around him were clearly thinking.

“We just gave them a gift in October,” the coach said. “We’re going to take it back in November.”

He spoke a bit more, then crouched to meet the Crusaders’ gaze.

“Eyes on me,” he said. “You will be champions.”

It will have to be a Class 8A state championship now. The Catholic League Blue title went Friday to defending 8A champ Loyola, which captured a titanic tussle between unbeaten squads, 48-37, in Mt. Greenwood.

The Ramblers (9-0, 4-0) won for the 26th straight time and sewed up a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Brother Rice (8-1, 3-1) slipped to a No.8 seed and will host Fremd. Brother Rice and Loyola could face each other in the quarterfinals.

“We know Part 2 is coming soon,” Crusaders wide receiver Ricky Smalling (12 catches, 121 yards) said. “We know what we have to do and what we have to work on. We’re going to be so much better in the playoffs.”

Both teams were plenty good in the regular season finale. 

The lead changed hands nine times, the last when the Ramblers’ all but unstoppable tight end/wildcat quarterback, Duke recruit Jake Marwede, scored the fourth of his five touchdowns with 9:15 to play. He capped the scoring, and a 13-carry, 87-yard day, with a four-yard rumble with 2:15 left.

The former score came two snaps after Loyola gained 33 yards on a fourth-and-six from the Rice 43 with pass off a fake punt. The latter after the Ramblers took over on the Crusaders’ 37 following a fumbled punt snap.

Rice also had an extra point attempt blocked in the second quarter, ending a streak of 101 such kicks made by John Richardson over two seasons.

“Special teams have always been our strength,” Badke said. “They hurt us tonight.”

So did turnovers, of which Rice had three. The first came with less than a minute left in the first half, after a Loyola fumble forced by Michael Butler-Kindle and recovered by Iben King gave the Crusaders, leading 23-14, the ball at their own 31. 

Rather than taking that edge to the locker room, Rice tried to add to it. After being sacked on first down, quarterback Dino Borrelli (28-of-42, 407 yards, 3 TD) was hit again, fumbling away to the Ramblers, who scored one second before the half to cut the edge to 23-21.

Asked if he considered taking a knee, Badke said, “I never have. I probably should have in that situation.”

Branden Houston, who had touchdown catches of 46 and 37 yards among his 10 grabs for 213, led Rice’s offensive fireworks. Patrick Murphy (2 receptions, 42 yards) added a 33-yard touchdown catch while Wyoming recruit Xazavian Valladay (14 carries, 50 yards) had touchdown runs of seven and 27 yards.

Ramblers quarterback Tommy Herion was 17-of-32 for 205 yards. After Loyola’s starting tailback, Hamid Bullie, went down with a knee injury on his third carry of the day, Kyle Rock, who typically starts the Ramblers’ home games, stepped up for 110 yards, including a 20-yard score, on 17 carries.

The Crusaders got dinged up as well, notably the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Brian Olsen, who returned from a neck injury suffered on the opening play of the second half and was limping noticeably in the postgame handshake line. 

“It was tough, they’re a physical team,” Olsen said. “But it’s the second season now. We’re 0-0. We’ll see them in the quarterfinals."


McAuley No. 1 in the nation in volleyball

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 or 3 McAUley

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mother McAuley’s volleyball team is ranked high in the in the nation in three polls, including No. 1 by

Volleyball regionals began this week and last week, Mother McAuley’s team picked up a nice surprise as the Mighty Macs were ranked No. 1 in the nation by

McAuley, 33-1 heading into this week’s regional action, is also ranked fifth by USA Today and 14th by Max Preps.

The postseason started Monday and regional title games will be decided tonight, Thursday.

Locally, McAuley is at the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Regional and was in line to face either Downers Grove South or Hinsdale Central at 6 p.m.

A possible showdown between Sandburg and Lyons Township could take place at the Argo Regional at 6 p.m.

At Stagg, a Marist-Downers Grove North battle could be on tap at 6 p.m.

Winners of these three regionals feed into the Marist Sectional Tuesday and Thursday.

In Class 2A, Queen of Peace is hosting a regional and eying a title battle with either Bogan or Goode STEM tonight, Thursday, at 6 p.m. The winner feeds into the Christo Rey Jesuit Sectional Tuesday and Thursday.

Chicago Christian is at the Agricultural Science Regional and could face either Marian Catholic or Rich South at 6 p.m. The winner heads to the Chicago Christian Sectional Tuesday and Thursday.



These clinches were cinches for Richards and Marist

  • Written by By Jeff Vorva and Phil Arvia


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Agony and ecstasy – Richards quarterback Jake Moran, right, congratulates receiver Noah Petrusevski after the two combined on a touchdown against Reavis. The receiver was in pain and holding his stomach after the score. 



It’s party time.

For the first time.

After Richards easily beat Reavis, 54-22 Friday night in Burbank to clinch the South Suburban Conference Red title, Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan announced to his troops that for the first time in school history, the players are invited to a playoff pairings party at the Oak Lawn school on Saturday night.

Richards (6-2, 6-0) hosts Tinley Park in a non-conference game Friday and hopes for a good seed and a first-round home game when the Illinois High School Association announces the 256-team field. It’s the eighth SSC Red title (seventh outright) for the Bulldogs in the 11-year history of the conference.

The Bulldogs were already a dangerous team with quarterback Jake Moran and running backs Pat Doyle and Anthony Quinn providing big yards. But just in time for the playoffs, sophomore Derek Flowers is starting to showcase his abilities. Flowers ran for 171 yards and found the end zone twice against the Rams.

The 5-foot-7, 215-pound Flowers has power and moves to chomp up a lot of yards and his cannonball-like frame has earned him a lot of nicknames from his peers and coaches including “Big Skinny,” “Little Bro,” “Doughboy” and “Big boy.”

“They can all me anything,” Flowers said. “Anything to do with big, plump, round…I don’t mind.’’

People are also comparing his running style to former NFL star Natrone Means, Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis.

“I think I play like my idol, Walter Payton,” Flowers said. “I got moves. Jerome Bettis didn’t have moves.’’

Reavis (6-2, 4-1) opened the scoring when Marc McClinton lined up at halfback and heaved a pass to BranTrell Seymore for 59 yards.

“I was very surprised and we weren’t expecting that,” Quinn said. “It shocks you and we had to get our heads back in the game.’’

It was all Richards after that with Quinn running in a pair of touchdowns and Flowers adding a third to take a 20-7 halftime lead and led by as much as 34-7. Richards has beaten the Rams 16 straight times by a combined score of 647-137.



Sophomore quarterback Michael Markett could have started feeling sorry for himself Friday, when his first varsity start at Marist began to go a little sideways.

With the RedHawks up 17-7 in their battle for first place in the East Suburban Catholic with Benet Academy, Markett, after completing 10 of his first 13 passes, turned the ball over on three straight possessions. The last, an errant lateral pass, led to the touchdown that brought the Redwings within 17-14 not quite midway through the third quarter.

“I got down on myself,” Markett, who took over this week as Morgan Taylor comes back from a sprained ankle, conceded. “But our running back, Delonte Harrell, kept telling me, ‘You got this.’”

Besides, Markett knew that whatever he didn’t have, Marist’s defense would take care of.

“They definitely challenge you,” he said. “I’m glad I’m not the other quarterback. But (in practice) it gets you ready for the game — going up against one of the best defenses in the state.”

Marist outlasted Benet 31-14 to guarantee, at the very least, their third shared ESCC title, the previous two coming in 2011 and ’12. If the RedHawks (7-1, 6-0) beat Joliet Catholic (1-7, 1-5) Friday at Joliet Memorial Stadium, they’ll wrap up their first outright league title ever.

Benet (6-2, 5-1) could salvage a share of the crown with a Week 9 win over Carmel of Mundelein and a Marist loss.

The Redwings, however, might still be recovering from the pounding put on them by the Marist defense. The RedHawks stopped Benet quarterbacks behind the line 10 times — eight sacks and twice on designed runs — and threw in five other tackles for loss, plus linebacker Micah Awodiran’s 20-yard fumble return for the clinching score.

“We needed a score right there,” Awodiran said, seemingly unaware that expecting a defensive score is not a typical strategy for most teams.

“With the guys we’ve got,” he added, “it’s something we know we’re capable of.”

Against Benet, lineman Gavin McCabe, a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, had 3 1/2 sacks and two tackles for loss. Luke Bullington and Awodiran had a pair of sacks each while Elijah Teague had one sack, four tackles for loss and a deflected pass. All told, Benet ended up losing 33 yards on the ground on 24 attempts and had to switch quarterbacks after starter Jack Sznajder came up woozy after a hard hit late in the first half.

“It’s fun — it’s really fun,” Teague, a 6-2, 295-pounder, said. “There’s nothing else you can really say.”

“They’re double-teaming him all day,” McCabe said of Teague, a fellow junior. “He’s opening up holes for me.”

Marist coach Pat Dunne celebrated his 36th birthday by declaring this defense “the best” he’s had in his eight years heading the program, adding, “every week, it’s getting better.”

Marist forced punts on Benet’s first four possessions, grabbing a 10-0 lead on Tom Gillen’s 30-yard field goal and a 26-yard scoring pass from Markett (13-of-20, 171 yards) to Billy Skalitzy (3 receptions, 78 yards).

Midway through the second quarter, Benet got on the board with a six-play, 75-yard drive capped by a nine-yard Sznajder-to-Alec McEachern pass. Marist got that back immediately, Harrell (18 carries, 112 yards) taking the ensuing kickoff back 83 yards for the score.

It was 17-14 when Markett opened the fourth quarter with a 48-yard bomb to Skalitzky to the Benet one-yard line, setting up a keeper for his first varsity touchdown. On the second snap after the ensuing kick, Awodiran scooped up a Benet fumble to all but ice the contest with 10:52 left.

“I saw the ball on the found and I tried to pop it up,” he said. “I bobbled it, then I saw that Sunday hop come up so I just went with it.”