NormalWest’s late flurry denies Shepard its first trip to quarterfinals
NORMAL — Shepard was 2:09 away from making history Friday night.
Ahead 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Astros were on the verge of advancing to their first quarterfinal in program history.
To make it even sweeter, District 218 sister Richards, a 35-21 winner over Yorkville Friday, was going to be the Astros’ next opponent.
History, however, will have to wait.
Normal West put a stunning end to visiting Shepard’s postseason plans, scoring two late touchdowns to earn a 26-17 win in a Class 6A second-round game.
Normal West quarterback Carson Camp threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Cole Hernandez with 2:09 remaining. ThenWildcats linebacker Zack Marcotte forced and recovered a Shepard fumble in the end zone with 53 seconds left,
Fourth-seeded Normal West (10-1) will play top-seeded Richards (11-0) in a 6A quarterfinal.
Shepard coach John Rone acknowledged itwas a tough loss to accept.
“Wemadetoomanymistakes,” said Rone, in his first season. “When you drop wide-open passes and get called for penalties that force you into firstand-25 situations, you’re not going to win playoff games.”
Other than a 7-7 tie, the Astros (8-3) led most of the way: 7-0, 10-7, 17-7 and 17-13.
However, it was a missed opportunity to extend their lead at the end of the first half that came back to haunt them.
Shepard receivers dropped two passes in the end zone on the same drive that would have extended a 17-13 lead to 24-13. The Astros were forced to settle for a field-goal attempt, which was missed.
To come away empty on that drive definitely took some wind out of Shepard’s sails and gave NormalWest some life.
“That hurt, but it wasn’t the reason we lost,” Rone said. “Therewere other factors.”
Among them was the absence in the second half of receiver Rishard Blake to a leg injury. Losing Blake, a 6-foot-1 senior, allowed the Wildcats to focus more attention on Chris Harrison, who made eight catches for 92 yards.
“Losing Rishard hurt us a lot,” Harrison said. “We had to make some adjustments.”
Quarterback Kevin Graham completed 19 of 41 passes for 234 yards. His 35-yard TD pass to Harrison gave Sheparda 17-7 lead with 5:56 to go in the first half.
And with the way Shepard’s defense— led byMatthew Hightower, Elijah Vinson and Tyler Herrera — was controlling the line of scrimmage, the 10-point cushion appeared safe. Da’Marco Washington came up with a clutch interception in the fourth quarter to maintain Shepard’s 17-13 lead.
Hightower credited Camp with affecting the outcome.
“He made plays,” Hightower said. “They made some adjustments when they needed to and put the ball in his hands more.”
Jamail Hunt’s 7-yard TD run on the game’s opening possession gave Shepard a quick 7-0 lead.
Michal Strama’s 34-yard field goal with 11:15 remaining in the second quarter snapped a 7-all tie and gave the Astros a 10-7 edge.
Running back Korey Burrell rushed for 76 yards on 18 carries for the Astros.
Hightower believed the key to the Astros’ success this season was chemistry.
“There’s a brotherhood,” Hightower said. “We believed in each other and played with a lot of heart.”