Clutch Hooker car­ries Cougars

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MICHAEL O’BRIEN mo­brien@sun­times.com | @michael­so­brien

Crane se­nior Eli­jah Hooker stepped up in ev­ery cru­cial mo­ment of the Cougars’ 20-14 vic­tory Thurs­day against Harper at Eck­er­sall.

The win gives Crane back-to­back In­tra-City 1 con­fer­ence ti­tles. It wouldn’t have hap­pened with­out Hooker’s un­canny abil­ity to step up, at mul­ti­ple po­si­tions, in the most im­por­tant mo­ments.

“I’ve been play­ing foot­ball my whole life,” Hooker said. “I can play line­backer, de­fen­sive line, quar­ter­back, run­ning back, any­thing. I’ve played it all.”

The Cougars (7-0, 6-0) trailed 1412 in the fourth quar­ter when Hooker brought down Harper’s run­ning back in the end zone for a safety with 11:09 to play.

Then with 4:22 left, he blocked a punt. Crane got the ball at Harper’s 2-yard line, and Zay’len Hill punched it in for the go-ahead score.

Hooker is also Crane’s quar­ter­back. He had 16 car­ries for 71 yards and two touch­downs, and his big­gest of­fen­sive con­tri­bu­tion might have come on the last pos­ses­sion of the game.

Hooker took six con­sec­u­tive hand­offs and gained yard after yard to se­cure two first downs, all while Harper’s de­fense clawed and scrapped and did ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to punch the ball loose.

“That is all about trust­ing your line,” Hooker said. “I just had to hold on and move for­ward.”

In­tra-City teams aren’t el­i­gi­ble for the state play­offs. The con­fer­ence ti­tle was on the line, so this was the big­gest game of the sea­son for both teams.

“This was all about our heart, ded­i­ca­tion and hard work,” Crane’s Alex­ian Pre­ci­ado said. “But prob­a­bly most of all it is be­cause of our coaches. They push us and make us work hard but also keep it pos­i­tive.”

A big play from Pre­ci­ado set up that fi­nal se­ries for Crane. He hauled in an in­ter­cep­tion with 2:14 to play.

“I vi­su­al­ized the play, and I knew we had to get that last stop,” Pre­ci­ado said. “I saw both of them go­ing up for the ball. I thought he would catch it or it would pop loose. I knew I had to be there just in case he popped it up in the air, and sure enough he did, and I had to catch it.”

Hill had 10 car­ries for 68 yards for the Cougars.

“That [game-win­ning touch­down] felt so good,” Hill said. “This is my first year ever play­ing foot­ball. I play bas­ket­ball, but [Crane coach An­thony An­drew] kept ask­ing me to play foot­ball.”

Qasha Barr had a one-yard touch­down run on the first drive of the game for the Car­di­nals (6-1, 5-1).

Harper’s sec­ond score was the game’s most im­pres­sive play. Quar­ter­back Leo An­drews con­nected with ju­nior Travon Oneal on a 65yard touch­down pass.

Oneal had 10 car­ries for 35 yards. Barr ran 10 times for 37 yards.

Harper and Crane had games can­celed by Chicago Pub­lic Schools in Week 7 be­cause of safety con­cerns after the Ja­son Van Dyke ver­dict.

Teams el­i­gi­ble for the state play­offs played makeup games Mon­day, but teams from non-play­off-el­i­gi­ble con­fer­ences did not have their games resched­uled.

Hooker and his Crane team­mates were thrilled to be back on the field.

“We can com­pete with a lot of good teams in Chicago,” Hooker said. “We are just down here [in the In­tra-City] based on what hap­pened in the past.”

Ac­cord­ing to a CPS spokesper­son, the can­celed games may be made up after Week 9, pend­ing ap­proval from the Illi­nois High School As­so­ci­a­tion.

Want the lat­est in­for­ma­tion and anal­y­sis on high school foot­ball? Our team of Michael O’Brien, Beth Long and An­nie Costa­bile will share the lat­est news, in­sights and weekly Su­per 25 rank­ings in a livestream show called ‘‘Sun-Times Game Week’’ at 4:30 p.m. ev­ery Mon­day. Like and fol­low our high school sports Face­book page and watch the show on Face­book Live. You also can ask ques­tions us­ing #sun­times­game­week.

ALLEN CUN­NING­HAM/FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Crane se­nior quar­ter­back Eli­jah Hooker, who made sev­eral big plays, had 16 car­ries for 71 yards and two touch­downs Thurs­day against Harper.

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