Nor­malWest’s late flurry de­nies Shep­ard its first trip to quar­ter­fi­nals

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Pat Dis­abato pdis­ Twit­ter @dis­abato

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.”

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