By Jason Maholy
For the better part of one half and into the next, Richards punished a St. Rita team that looked overmatched and, to make matters worse, couldn’t get out of its own way.
For the better part of one half, the Mustangs punished a Bulldogs squad that may not have anticipated the fury with which its wounded opponent would fight.
All things being equal midway through the fourth quarter, Richards made the big plays at the end and held off an impressive comeback for a 35-28 win on a pleasantly cool autumn night in Oak Lawn.
Senior running back Leshon Williams put the Bulldogs on his back and followed a determined offensive line to score the go-ahead touchdown with 5:38 to play, and senior defensive back Damian Evans intercepted a pass with 2:30 left to seal the deal.
Williams finished with 30 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Javon Robinson completed 10 of 17 passes for 150 yards and two scores.
The comfortable ambient temperature may not have been evident at all times to Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan, who was anything but comfortable during most of the second half. The Mustangs scored three touchdowns and converted a two-point try within a seven-minute stretch bridging the final two quarters to storm back from a three-score deficit and tie the game at 28 with 9:49 remaining.
“It was a little stressful,” said a relieved and fired up Sheehan, who was proud of his team’s resilience in a hard-fought Week 2 win. “They’re a good football team. They’re explosive, and our defense did a good job trying to contain them and made plays all night, but they came out (in the second half) and got us a little bit on our heels.”
St. Rita actually looked to bungle its last opportunity when they fumbled the opening kick of the second half. Richards recovered and promptly scored on a 30-yard pass from Javon Robinson to take what appeared to be a commanding 28-6 lead.
Kaleb Brown and the Mustangs were not done, however. The sophomore running back finished with 21 carries for 121 yards and ran for three touchdowns in an effort that helped ensure the game would be decided in the final 10 minutes.
Sheehan was proud of his team’s response to the assault.
“We fought back,” he said. “We felt some adversity and I’m really proud of the kids the way they fought back when our backs were against the wall. The best thing was [Richards players] were positive on the sideline. There was no pointing fingers, it was staying together and saying we’re good we got this and let’s get after them.”
Williams was huge on the final drive, which began at the Richards 33-yard line and ended with Williams taking a direct snap into the end zone from five yards out for the go-ahead score. He accounted for 36 of the 67 yards on the drive.
“I just threw my helmet down and I said we got to run hard,” he said. “I’ve got to give props to my O-line, they opened lot of holes. Without them them I wouldn’t have been able to have the 12- or 14-yard runs, but they gave me a good push and I saw the hole and I hit it.”
The Bulldogs will ride their big running back as far as he’ll take them.
“That last drive it was let’s give it to our dude, and let’s ride him, and that’s why he’s going to Iowa, and that’s what we need out of him,” Sheehan said. “He took the hull by the horns and got after it and the O-line did a great job of opening holes.”
Robinson had two completions on the drive, including a 13-yarder to senior wide receive Sebastian Lasak on fourth-and-four from the St. Rita 31. Robinson got the ball over the outstretched arms of two Mustang defenders and Lasak made a twisting, over-the-shoulder grab while falling out of bounds. Williams ran it in two plays later for the game-winning score.
“Robinson did a great job,” Sheehan said. “He’s grown so much since June and he’s gotten better and he adds a lot to our offense.”
The Bulldogs will face Hillcrest at 7 p.m. Friday in Country Club Hills. The Hawks (1-1) lost a tight game to Brother Rice, 26-20, on opening night and topped Sandburg, 22-14, in Week 2. Shehean expects to have his hands full with Hilcrest and junior running back Mar’kiese Irving.
“Him and (Leshon) Williams are probably the two best backs in the state, and it’s going to be a show, hopefully,” Sheehan said. “We’ll be up, we’ll be ready.”