Photo by Jeff Vorva
Derek Flowers of Richards breaks two tackles en route to his first of four touchdowns in a 27-21 victory over Shepard Friday night in Palos Heights.
When crunch time rolled around, nobody in the healthy throng of fans Friday at Shepard was surprised to see Richards go with a steady diet of handoffs to Derek Flowers.
After running for three touchdowns and 98 yards in the first half, Flowers finished with four scores and 202 yards on 26 carries in a 27-21, South Suburban Red win in Palos Heights.
“The ball is the game,” the 5-foot-9, 215-pound junior running back said. “Protect the ball first. Everything else is second. Your body, everything.
“We knew we were going to have to punch them in the mouth.”
Call that an unfortunate choice of words.
Two players from each side — Shepard’s Rishard Blake and Nieko Carter, and Richards’ Niles Gall and Jalen Lee — were ejected for fighting in the second half. The first three left after an incident at 10:22 of the third quarter and Lee in the final minute of that period.
Each of the four is required by IHSA rules to sit out his next game.
“Ridiculous,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “That was by far some of the worst officiating I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s going to be some film sent into the state.
“That’s bad — especially with Lemont next. We need those guys.”
Gall is Richards’ leading receiver with 12 catches for 149 yards, including six for 47 Friday. Lee, a 6-3, 275-pound sophomore, is a huge presence in the Bulldogs’ line.
Still, Blake, who entered as Shepard’s leading rusher, and Carter, who had a 75-yard touchdown run off a fake punt in the first quarter, may have been tougher losses. The Astros were already missing head coach Dominic Passolano, who according to acting head coach A.J. Porter left school roughly four hours before the game to deal with a family emergency.
“We’ve been together for nine years, him and I,” Porter said. “We know each other very well. (Passolano’s absence) didn’t matter.”
Of Passolano’s eight previous Astros squads, six had gone to the playoffs. None beat Richards. This team had hoped to change that.
“We knew our skill kids matched their skill kids,” Porter said. “We thought, if our toughness could match their toughness…”
Flowers got help from quarterback Sebastian Castro, who was 15-of-21 for 161 yards and added 40 yards rushing. Shepard quarterback Marques Porter (8-of-15, 158 yards) kept the Astros close by connecting on big strikes to Chris Harrison (4 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Richards (2-1, 1-0) recovered a Shepard fumble on the opening kickoff and scored seven plays later on a 10-yard run by Flowers. Carter brought Shepard (2-1, 0-1) even on the ensuing possession.
Flowers capped Richards’ first two possessions of the second quarter with scoring runs of 5 and 15 yards, respectively. Shepard went to the locker room trailing 21-14 after Porter hit Harrison on consecutive passes of 40 and 32 yards, the latter for a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the half.
A 13-play, 65-yard drive, ending with Flowers powering in from three yards out, opened the second half. Shepard cut it to 27-21 with 6:18 to play on Harrison’s impressive one-handed grab of a one-yard jump-ball from Porter, but could get no closer.
“We made it interesting," A.J. Porter said. "I was telling the kids all week, 'Big-time players make big-time plays.'"
As did Flowers on the ensuing possession, with carries of 6, 9, 27 and 10 yards to help Richards eat up all but the final 40 seconds of game clock.
“We’re going to ride him,” Sheehan said. “He’s one tough player. That’s the key — we’ve got to get down and dirty.”