By Jason Maholy
Facing a third-and-10 from its own 20-yard line on its first possession of the game, Shepard quarterback Thomas Smith hit Jalen Smith for an 80-yard scoring play, and the barnburner was officially on.
The Smiths were just two of the Astros stars of a wild one in Palos Heights, where Shepard held off St. Francis for a 49-46 victory on Sept. 6. Thomas Smith was 5-of-9 passing for 142 yards and threw touchdown passes to four different receivers. Jalen Smith had two receptions for 86 yards and scored in all three phases of the game, also finding the end zone on an 82-yard interception return and 82-yard kick return.
Senior running back Alex Harris did his part, racked up 218 all-purpose yards, including 164 rushing for his second consecutive 100-yard game of the young season. Harris scored two touchdowns – one rushing and one receiving – and had a two-point conversion.
The Astros have 11 new starters on offense, but coach John Rone said that hasn’t limited his team’s expectations.
“Our guys believe we can have 30-plus-point games and that the 20-point outing [in Week 1 versus Leyden] was more of a reflection of the smashmouth-style game we were in than the full capabilities of our offense,” he said. “The progress our offensive line showed after just one week was really good to see. We’ll keep working to continue to grow as an offensive unit and individual varsity players, and as we do we feel this unit can be pretty tough to stop.”
The Astros took a lead that was repeatedly threatened but which they would not relinquish on Smith’s third touchdown pass of the game, a 25-yard strike to Elijah Vinson with less than a minute to go in the first half. Harris’ two-point conversion run put Shepard up 28-24.
The Astros extended their lead on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, when Harris ran in from 37 yards out.
Shepard had their hands full with St. Francis quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse.
“Defensively speaking, it was tough night and largely due to Rittenhouse,” Rohn said. “That young man is the real deal. He seems to have a complete understanding of their playbook and the talent to execute it extremely well. He made us pay for virtually every mistake we made on defense.
“Luckily for us, we were able to take advantage of one of his very few mistakes when Jalen took the third-quarter pick to the house.”
Jalen Smith’s interception return for a touchdown was among the biggest plays of the game, Rohn said. His squad is thus far has not felt the sting of losing three -quarters of its 2018 starters to graduation.
“It shows that this group can continue the success of the talent-rich class that just graduated, in addition to proving that if we wholeheartedly adopt the ‘don’t stop’ mentality we want to be identified by, we can reach new levels of success,” he added. “To see them once again display that attitude we push and enjoy the rewards of it, is just awesome.”
Matthew Hightower had six carries for 67 yards and Ira Guyton scored on an 18-yard reception. Grant Larkins recorded a team-high 10 tackles, Chris Hale had 1.5 sacks, Amere Colbert had one sack and Sikiel Graves had a half sack.
St. Laurence 31, Eisenhower 14
The Vikings had only seven yards through the air in its Week 2 matchup with Eisenhower.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, St. Laurence rushed for 451 yards and four touchdowns in routing the Cards on Sept. 6 in Blue Island. The Vikings with the win improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2013.
Junior running back Nate Thomas led the Vikings ground attack with 265 yards on 28 carries, and had touchdown runs of 10 and 72 yards. Junior quarterback Darius Wilson nearly toped the century mark with 17 carries for 99 yards, including scoring runs of five and 19 yards. Senior wide receiver Brandon Wilson had 66 yards on five totes.
St. Laurence marched methodically downfield on its opening drive, without attempting a pass, and scored on a short run by Wilson, who squeezed through two Ike defenders on a dive into the end zone.
The Vikings’ Zach Siebenaler then recovered a Cardinals fumble on the ensuing kickoff, setting up the St. Laurence offense with excellent field position en rout to another score and a 14-0 lead.
While the ground game had its way with Eisenhower, the St. Laurence defense was strong for a second consecutive game. Cornerbacks Brandon Wilson and Jordan McMath each picked off Cardinals quarterback Daniel McLaurin, and Zach Siebenaler recovered a fumble.
Siebenaler and Antonio Vargas each contributed three tackles, and Will Waters recorded a sack.
As well as the Vikings have played in wins against Hyde Park and Ike, whom they collectively outscored 88-14, they’ll need to raise their game as they step up in class this week against defending Class 5A state champion Joliet Catholic. The Hilltoppers (0-2) have opened the season with losses to St. Rita and IC Catholic.
Chicago Christian 27, Rockford Christian 7
Traveling nearly two hours for their second game of the season didn’t affect the Knights, who continued to build on the momentum from last season’s run to the second round of the Class 2A playoffs with another strong showing on both sides of the ball.
Senior quarterback Danny Bulthuis completed 15 of 27 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, senior running back Ryley Bulthuis rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, and senior wide receiver Brian Anderson caught six passes for 91 yards to pace Chicago Christian.
Ryan Bulthuis also scored on a 51-yard interception return for a defense that has been dominant through two weeks.
The Knights’ prevention corps has allowed only 44 yards rushing and has 11 sacks, three interceptions and two touchdowns through the first two games. The defense has scored more touchdowns than it has allowed.
“The keys have been aggressive D-line and linebacker play, and improved tackling overall,” said Chicago Christian coach Nick Cook, who noted the Knights have a statistician that tracks what percent of tackles are make at first contact. “We just accomplished the highest single-game percentage that we have seen since our staff took over in 2015.”
Knights coach Nick Cook said the success of last year’s squad, the program’s first playoff team in a decade, has bled into this season. Christian has 12 new players, three of whom have cracked the starting lineup. Senior Danny Bulthuis, Ryley Bulthuis, Anderson and Ty Sperling are the rocks on which this year’s team has been built.
Danny Bulthuis is making up for lost time after missing all of last season with an ACL injury, and undergoing two ACL surgeries. Through two weeks he is 19-of-34 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Sperling, a linebacker, set the school record for tackles last season and has 12 tackles, two scaks and four tackles for a loss this year.
Evergreen Park 28, Leo 20
The Mustangs bounced back from being shut out in Week 1 and evened their record at 1-1.
Sophomore quarterback Devin Turner was 9-of-18 passing for 108 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 12 times for 66 yards and a score. Sophomore running back James Williams had 105 yards on 17 carries.
Senior wide receiver Sean Wilkinson had four receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns, and Matt Walsh had two receptions for 18 yards and a score.
“We made multiple improvements from Week 1 to Week 2,” said Mustangs coach Jerry Verde. “Turner will continue to mature as a quarterback, and he made a few key conversions in the second half.
“Defensively we played a much better game. Our alignments and execution was much improved.”
WEEK 2 SCOREBOARD
Brother Rice 45, Perspectives 6
Hillcrest 22, Sandburg 14
Wilmington 58, Oak Lawn 28
Grant 33, Stagg 0
Nazareth 35, Curie 0
Lyons 31, Proviso East 20
Riverside-Brookfield 26, Wauconda 21
Mount Carmel 21, Maine South 7
De La Salle 14, Kenwood 7