By Jason Maholy
Shepard came into last week’s South Suburban Red matchup with Oak Lawn looking to get off to a fast start and put the sting of its first loss of the season in the rearview mirror.
The Astros did just that, and before the game was 10 minutes old had scored on offense , defense and special teams in a 29-10 victory over the Spartans on Oct. 4 in Palos Heights. If they can sustain the fire and level of execution they displayed in the first quarter s they could be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
Shepard improved to 5-1 and became playoff eligible. They can clinch a postseason berth with a win over Lemont this week.
The Astros were coming off their first loss, a 20-14 setback to Eisenhower, after starting 4-0 for the first time since 1993.
Astros running back Kendrick Washington opened the scoring by running for a touchdown on Shepard’s opening drive. After Oak Lawn evened the score at 7-7 on a Chris Gallagher touchdown pass, Astros’ senior playmaker Jalen Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards to paydirt.
The kick return was Smith’s second for a touchdown this season. He also has a pick-six and multiple scores on offense.
“Jalen is simply a heck of a player, an impact player and a great kid,” said Shepard coach John Rone. “He plays offense, defense and special teams and gives his all in every phase, which is why he’s scored in all three.”
Two plays into the Spartans’ next drive, Andrew Wright intercepted a Gallagher pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to help give Shepard a 21-7 lead with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter.
“We really wanted come out and respond positively after our poor play last week, and we did that by scoring in all three phases in the first quarter,” Rone said. “We’re about to hit a challenging part of the schedule, so it’s good to see us respond early the way we did.”
Alex Harris led Shepard with 54 yards rushing on six attempts, and caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. He has scored at least one touchdown in every game this season.
Senior quarterback Thomas Smith completed 11 of 21 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The Astros’ defense held the Spartans offense to 108 yards. Washington, a sophomore who was playing in his first varsity game, had two of the unit’s three interceptions to go with his rushing touchdown, and Matthew Hightower had six tackles for loss and two sacks. Senior linebacker Zach Robinson recorded 15 tackles and a forced fumble.
Shepard’s prevention corps has been a key to the team’s 5-1 start, recording 19 turnovers and returning three of its 14 picks for touchdowns. The defense has continually improved despite numerous personnel changes necessitated by injuries.
“A perfect example would be Kendrick Washington playing his first varsity game and coming up with two interceptions,” Rone said. “[Defensive coordinator Vince] Holmes has those guys flying around, being physical and causing turnovers at an awesome rate.
“As soon as we clean up our assignment mistakes on offense, with the way our defense has come around, we’ll be playing at a very high level as a team and will be really tough to beat.”