By Jason Maholy
Alex Harris ran 68 yards for a touchdown on Shepard’s second play from scrimmage, Elijah Vinson intercepted three passes including an 80-yard pick-six, and the Astros improved to 4-0 for the first time in 25 seasons with a 45-17 win over Evergreen Park.
Harris, a senior running back, finished with 151 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries to lead a three-headed ground attack that gouged the Mustang defense for 311 yards and four scores. Senior quarterback Thomas Smith ran 13 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, and senior running back Matthew Hightower added six carries for 63 yards and a score.
Shepard has started the season with four wins for the first time since 1993, according to coach John Rone.
“We’re happy about going 4-0… but since we’re still too early in the season to have accomplished the goals we set going into the season, we have tons more to play for,” Rone said.
The Mustangs fell to 2-2. Junior quarterback Devin Turner completed 10 of 25 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, and junior wide receiver Matt Walsh had three receptions for 46 yards and a score. Antowan Underdue had Evergreen’s longest play of the season, an 80-yard touchdown jaunt on his only carry, and Malcolm Horton caught three passes 56 yds.
The Astros jumped on Evergreen on their second offensive play when the speedy Harris took a handoff to the left sideline and outran the defense for a 68-yard touchdown.
Their next drive, following a defensive stop, featured the hard running of Hightower, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound power back who was a load for the smaller Mustangs to bring down. Cameron Novack hit a 35-yard field goal to put Shepard up 10-0 with 3:48 to go in the first quarter.
“We came out very strong,” Rone said. “We did sputter offensively at times. We had several starters get banged up so we had to make some changes to our offensive game plan on the fly.”
Smith completed 8 of 19 passes for 112 yards and threw a touchdown pass to Ira Guyton. It wasn’t his finest throwing performance, but he ate up yardage on the ground. Rone was pleased with the way he protected the ball and led the offense, especially considering the injuries that necessitated numerous personnel changes.
“Thomas will be the first to tell you he didn’t have is best game passing-wise,” he said. “He’s a first-year starter and it was the first time the game plan was largely on his shoulders, so he’ll improve from this experience. He has all the players’ and coaches’ complete confidence in leading our offense.”
Guyton had three catches for 87 yards and the touchdown.
Vinson, a senior linebacker, intercepted a Devin Turner pass while Evergreen was driving and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown. The linebacking corps of Vinson (seven tackles, three INTs), Hightower (11) and senior Grant Larkins (eight tackles-three for loss, one sack) keyed the defense. Junior defensive lineman Justin Gavin had two tackles for loss.
Rone pointed to Vinson’s pick-six and the Astros responding to each of the Mustangs’ three scoring drives with scoring drives of their own as the most impactful moments of the game.
“I just think quickly answering a score with a score of your own makes a statement during a game,” he added.
Shepard’s success during their fast start to the season has been a well-rounded effort, with all three phases of the game making an impact. Six players have scored touchdowns, four have intercepted passes and eight have recorded sacks.