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Shepard junior running back Xavier Rogers runs for some of his 86 yards in the Astros’ 21-10 win over Evergreen Park on Oct. 1. Photo by Jason Maholy

Shepard junior running back Xavier Rogers runs for some of his 86 yards in the Astros’ 21-10 win over Evergreen Park on Oct. 1. Photo by Jason Maholy

High School Football: Shepard tops Evergreen Park for second straight win

By Jason Maholy
Sports Editor

Shepard coach John Rone would have preferred his Astros not dug themselves a hole by starting 0-4, but being faced with having to win their five remaining games to be playoff-eligible may have had some unintended benefits.

Rone does not think having their backs against the wall helped the Astros regain their focus — they had not lost focus, he said — but it may have created a sense of urgency and galvanized his squad. The rough start to the season for a team with high expectations led to some players quitting the team, he acknowledged.

“Every guy that’s left is all in — he’s all in and he’s a mentally tough kid that’s going to work hard and fight like hell to get to our goals,” Rone said. “These kids, the guys that are left, have shown me their character.”

Those guys that are left have now won two consecutive games, the latest being a 21-10 triumph over South Suburban Red rival Evergreen Park on Oct. 1. Shepard (2-4, 2-1) faces Oak Lawn (3-3, 1-2) on the road this Friday.

Kendrick Washington ran for 190 yards and for the second straight game scored all three Astros’ touchdowns, and Xavier Rogers added 86 hard-fought yards as Shepard racked up 311 yards on the ground. It was the second week in a row the team rushed for more than 300 yards.

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Roy Williams wreaked havoc. The Northern Illinois signee had 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.

Senior defensive back RaSand Hall Jr. had an interception that altered the dynamic of the game.

Williams and Hall are part of a defense that is now playing to its capabilities for four quarters. The prevention corps’ efforts have been aided by the return of Williams, a 6-7, 245-pound senior who was injured in the season-opening loss to Kankakee and missed the following two games. Now, he’s full go, and that is good news for the Astros’ stout defensive line that also includes seniors Jeremy Rowlett and Malakhi Smith.

“He’s finally getting healthy, practicing every day, being on a regular schedule, and we’re starting to see why Northern’s getting a pretty good football player,” Rone said.

The game was a defensive battle for the first 12 minutes as the first three drives ended in punts. The fourth resulted in a Shepard fumble deep in Evergreen Park territory. The Mustangs subsequently drove 84 yards before settling for a field goal and taking a 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

The Astros got on the board on their ensuing possession, which began at the Evergreen Park 41 yard line and ended eight plays later with a 1-yard scoring run by Washington with 1:29 left in the first half.

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Evergreen Park senior running back James Williams outraces Shepard defenders for a big gain during a South Suburban Red tilt on Oct. 1. Photo by Jason Maholy

The first play of the Mustangs’ next possession was the turning point in the game. Hall intercepted a Deijon Feliciano pass, giving Shepard the ball at the Evergreen Park 41 yard line. Five plays later, Washington scored from 4 yards out and the hosts took a 14-3 lead with 16 seconds remaining in the half.

“That hurt us a little because it was the first play [of the drive], but we never quit and we battled the entire second half,” said Evergreen Park coach Jerry Verde. “You play them to a tie in the second half, but that’s obviously not enough. I think they had a few more weapons than we did, but you move on; that’s all you can do.”

Shepard went up 21-3 on a 34-yard run by Washington early in the third quarter, but the Mustangs refused to go away. Their defense held the Astros off the scoreboard the remainder of the game, and Feliciano hooked up with Jalen Shepherd on a 10-yard scoring pass to make it 21-10 with just over 7 minutes remaining in the game.

Neither offense was able to get much going the rest of the way.

“I’m still proud of this team, still proud of the way they fought and we were in it until the end,” Verde said. “That’s where we want to be in the fourth quarter, with a chance to win the game. And I think regardless of what happened we had a chance to win the game, even when it looked bleak.”

Mustangs senior running back James Williams ran for 103 yards on 14 carries and fellow senior Michael Torres added 52 yards on nine totes. Evergreen Park rushed for 181 yards.

Rone said Shepard’s inexperienced players have started to understand what is required to win at the varsity level. In addition, an offensive line that was in flux the first four weeks has started to jell.

“We had to take a few lumps to get if figured out, and I think these guys have learned what it takes,” Rone said. “And I’m excited to keep this ship going and see where we can go.”

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