Evergreen Park wide receiver Elijah Matthews catches a touchdown pass over Oak Lawn’s Gavin Butler. Photo by Steve Metsch
High School Football: Mustangs buck Spartans into offseason
By Steve Metsch
Coming into the regular-season finale, Evergreen Park knew Oak Lawn needed a victory to possibly make the playoffs.
The Mustangs, most likely already in the tournament but with a chance to improve their seed, had other plans.
“Not on our watch,” senior wide receiver Elijah Matthews said after Evergreen Park defeated the Spartans, 35-13, on Oct. 22 in Oak Lawn.
The Mustangs (6-3, 4-2 South Suburban Red) earned a No. 8 seed in the IHSA Class 5A playoffs and will host Sycamore (6-3) in a first-round game. Oak Lawn (4-5, 2-4) missed the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season.
“We’re a pretty dangerous team,” said Evergreen Park coach Jerry Verde. “We can make some plays.”
Matthews had five receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Verde called him “a special player.”
Mustangs senior running backs James Williams and Michael Torres combined to rush for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Williams carried 13 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Torres added 96 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
Sophomore quarterback Deijon Feliciano finished 9-of-12 for 119 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Oak Lawn, which showed steady improvement as the season progressed under first-year head coach Ryan Pattison, led 7-0 after senior Gavin Butler ran 13 yards for a score with 4:38 left in the first quarter.
The teams traded possessions, but a bad snap on a punt from Oak Lawn’s 38-yard line gave the Mustangs the ball at the 15. Williams ran in on the next play for a 7-7 tie.
The ensuing kickoff was returned 90 yards for an apparent touchdown by speedy Spartans junior Ayham Salah. But a holding call wiped out the play.
“Those killed us,” Pattison said of the bad snap and penalty.
With 6 seconds left in the first half and a 2nd-and-3 from Oak Lawn’s 40 yard line, Mustang sophomore quarterback Deijon Feliciano lofted a pass to Matthews near the 10 yard line. The 6-foot receiver jumped behind the 5-foot-9 Butler, caught the ball, and ran in for a 14-7 halftime lead.
“That was a heck of a catch,” Pattison said. “That’s a huge blow.”
Verde wasn’t surprised; Matthews and Feliciano practice the play daily.
“He’s been a leader all year,” Verde said of Matthews. “He proves it on both sides of the ball.”
Matthews intercepted a pass in the game’s waning moments.
Evergreen Park outscored Oak Lawn 21-6 in the second half.
While Pattison is disappointed the Spartans did not make the playoffs, he’s already looking forward to next season.
“We have a bunch of kids who care,” he said. “We have a ton of kids playing football for the first time.”
Butler, who plays basketball for Oak Lawn, decided to try football after off-season chats with Spartans receiver Adam Alcantara.
“We challenged ourselves to see if we could turn this into a winning program,” Butler said. “I’m proud to be part of this team.”
Another basketball player, senior Gabriel Duer, had last played football his freshman year. Duer’s play at quarterback and linebacker contributed significantly to the Spartans’ success this season.
In the finale, he ran for 111 yards and was 4-of-11 for 80 yards with a touchdown pass to junior John McGlynn
“Coach Pattison has this team looking good for many years to come,” Duer said.