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Football | Joliet West rides scoring flurry to win over Shepard

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By Tim Cronin
Correspondent

JOLIET — Losses come with lessons, and often with hope.

Such was the case for Shepard after a 34-14 season-opening loss at Joliet West on Aug. 25.

The Astros were victimized by mistakes — some their own and some by an inexperienced officiating crew — and, while the Tigers earned the victory, the point-differential should have been closer. Had it been closer, the flow of play might have been different.

The middle of the first half proved the difference, as Joliet West scored three touchdowns in 2:53 to switch the scoreboard from scoreless to 21-0.

The second of those three touchdowns shouldn’t have counted. The Tigers took a 14-0 lead on what officials ruled was a fumble by Shepard’s Anthony Loughran. West’s Cael Karczewski grabbed the ball on the Astros 15 after — as video proved — Loughran’s knee was down.

Karczewski returend the ball for a touchdown 82 seconds into the second quarter.

The Tigers made it 21-0 after they recovered the ensuing onside kick and scored seven plays later. A lesser team would have folded at that juncture, but the Astros have pluck.

“We saw enough as a staff that the quality of a team we think we can be, we absolutely can be,” said Astros coach John Rone. “We’ve got 70% juniors starting. It may well have been the welcome to varsity football speed and physicality that this young group needed.

“We hope to look back at this game and say, ‘This is where we started.’”

The Astros have a promising quarterback in junior Jimmy LasCola, whose 10-of-18 reading for 197 yards was punctuated by a 25-yard touchdown pass to Cameren Tryon with 8:26 remaining, making the score 34-6. That squelched West’s notion of forcing a running clock.

LasCola also scored on a 2-yard plunge with 2:42 to go, following a 42-yard completion to Mohammad Ashkar. That forced West to put its first-team defense back into the game.

“We preach mental toughness,” Rone said. “That was very encouraging. Even though some calls didn’t go our way, or a lack of discipline on defense for much of the first half, our guys hung in there, kept clawing and fighting. They showed no quit.”

Shepard opened with a solid first drive before LasCola was sacked on the Tigers 25-yard line. This became a pattern. When the Tigers could elude sophomore Zion Carter and senior James Daniels III — big guys on the offensive line who are 305 and 330 pounds, respectively — LasCola had to run for it. Otherwise afforded good protection, he was sacked a half-dozen times.

West struck first with 3 seconds left in the first quarter, with Juan Rico hitting Marion Starks with a 29-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone.

The Tigers then failed to capitalize on Austin Kittle’s interception of LasCola, but went up 14-0 on the Loughran non-fumble on the next series.There was no question about West’s next score, a 6-yard jaunt by Rico into the left corner of the end zone following completions to Starks and Ian Farrell. The barrage helped Tigers christen their new artificial turf field in stylish fashion.

Shepard hosts Brooks, which lost 14-12 to Bulls College Prep, in Friday’s home opener.

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Clear-Ridge Reporter and NewsHound June 12, 2024

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