By Jason Maholy
Shepard piled up nearly 400 yards of offense, including 234 on the ground, to hold off an Oak Lawn team determined to hold serve on its home field in a Week 6 match-up in the South Suburban Red.
Astros quarterback Rishard Blake completed 7 of 11 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries, to pace the visitors to a 28-18 win.
Richards wide receiver Chris Harrison added 92 yards and a touchdown on 4 carries, and caught two passes for 55 yards. Korey Burrell and Jamil Hunt both caught touchdown passes.
The Astros' victory improved them to 4-2 and within one win of playoff eligibility and, with the playoff points they will accrue, a likely spot in their respective classes' field of 32.
The Spartan's, meanwhile, have their proverbial backs against the wall, as they have to win their remaining three games to merely give themselves a shot at playing in the postseason.
The victory, though welcome, was no triumph as far as Shepard head coach John Rone was concerned. The first-year field boss questioned if the Astros took the Spartans too lightly. Shepard was drubbed by Richards, 52-14, the week before, but had appeared to rebound with a strong week of practice, Rone said.
“Anytime you get a victory you're happy that you ended up on the right side of the scoreboard, but honestly, we didn't play anywhere near our best tonight,” Rone said. “I'm wondering if my guys overlooked them somewhat.
“As coaches it's our duty to make sure that doesn't happen... But even during out pregame meal I wondered if we were taking this team a little too lightly.”
Shepard made plays when it had to, but struggled on both sides of the ball in an uneven performance. Rone said his defense's showing was “definitely not up to what we expect from our guys.”
It could have been worse for the Astros, as the Spartans option offense seemed to confuse the Shepard defense, particularly in the first half. Spartans running back Nick Puente finished with 188 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, and quarterback Chris Gallagher ran for a score, but the Astros laregly bent without breaking and held Gallagher to 9 of 25 passing for 119 yards, and intercepted him once.
Spartans wide receiver Jordan Sprycha caught four passes for 64 yards.
Oak Lawn ran 79 offensive plays to Shepard's 43, and the game of keep-away nearly worked.
“We did a lot of undisciplined things,” Rone said. “With them being an option-based offense you've got to play solid football, and there were far too many times we abandoned our assignments.
“We just have to get more disciplined within our assignments on defense if we're going to finish strong and make a run in the playoffs.”
Jaime Matinez had an interception and fumble recovery for Oak Lawn, which lost its third straight game. Nico Uriarty had 11 tackles and a sack.
“Shepard is a very talented team and played a physical game, hats off to them and the win,” Spartans head coach Nick Novak said. “We knew we had to control the ball, which we did. Too many of our drives were killed with penalties on our end, which we can fix.”
Oak Lawn counts seven sophomores among its 22 starters, and the team is getting better each week, Novak said.
They'll have to play their best ball of the season if they want to reach five victories and have an outside shot of gaining a postseason berth. A 15-14 loss to Evergreen Park in Week 5 could prove to be the most crushing blow.
“We told our guys, the last two weeks we are four to five plays away from being 4-2,” Novak said. “If we continue to be more disciplined on the penalty end, I think we will put ourselves in good position to get to 5-4. Each week is going to be a great test for us and will demand our best.”
The Spartans play at Eisenhower (3-3) this week, at home against Tinley Park (2-4) in Week 8 and then finish the season at Reavis (4-2).
Shepard will host Reavis this week.