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By Mike Sandrolini
ELMHURST | St. Joseph’s gridiron contest with Chicago Hope last Friday at Elmhurst College (where the Chargers play their home games) was one that head coach Rich Petroski made note of on the schedule as being an important game in the grand scheme of things for the 2017 season.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, although they got into the red zone three times during the matchup, they were unable to produce any points and lost 21-0 to the Eagles.
The victory puts undefeated Hope (4-0) in the driver’s seat in the Chicago Catholic Red while the Chargers—who crushed their foes by a combined score of 98-0 in their previous two games —slipped to 2-2 overall.
“We just couldn’t punch the ball in,” Petroski said. “Bad snap and our quarterback didn’t get the play off right away and things like that. They’re very correctable the things that we can change.”
After the game, 6-foot-5 junior Zuriel Mason was treated by paramedics for heat exhaustion. He is reported to be OK.
“He’s a great kid and he’s out there and doesn’t come off the field in doing the thing he’s doing out there,” Petroski said. “He played a helluva game, too; it was unbelievable how he played.”
The Eagles (4-0) grabbed a 7-0 lead on their opening possession when quarterback Trevor Land took it into the end zone on a 2-yard run. The Chargers were whistled for four offside penalties prior to the TD and seven overall in the first quarter alone, but Petrowski said the number of offside calls didn’t bother him.
“With the off-side penalties, our defensive coordinator, he had the play,” Petroski said. “We want to jump the snap so those penalties that we were getting, we weren’t very worried about it because of the simple fact that we knew they were going to come and we just had to make sure we got out there and keep going but that’s what we stopped doing.”
Land had to be helped off the field early in the second quarter with a leg injury. He didn’t return to the game, but the Eagles didn’t lose a beat, adding a touchdown with 3:35 to go in the period to take a 14-0 lead at halftime.
The Chargers committed two second-quarter turnovers and had five for the game. Senior running back Aamir Burgie, a Bellwood resident who’s been a big part of the Chargers’ offense all year, was limited to 2 yards on 3 carries.
St. Joseph had an opportunity to get back into the game during their opening drive of the second half. Junior quarterback and Bellwood resident Caleb Hayden (7 of 20, 100 yards) connected with Zach Ford (2 catches, 43 yards) on a 29-yard pass play, and then Zion Tims (6 carries, 81 yards) broke off a 52-yard run to put the Chargers first-and-goal at the Hope 3-yard line.
However, Hayden was later sacked for a 12-yard loss and the Chargers’ bid for a touchdown eventually fizzled out. Hope, which was led in rushing by Lafabian Fain (26 carries, 115 yards), added another touchdown on its ensuing possession to make it 21-0.
The Chargers threatened again toward the end of the third quarter as Hayden almost singlehandedly took St. Joseph (which started the drive from the Eagles’ 49-yard line) to the Hope 6-yard line thanks to a completion to Ford and Hayden running for 32 yards on three carries. But the drive ended when the Chargers turned it over on a fumble.
“We knew what they (Hope) were going to do,” Petroski said. “We studied their film; we watched what they were going to do. We knew how they were going to bring the pressure. To be honest with you, our whole line did an excellent job of actually holding them up.”
The Chargers did have plenty of defensive highlights in the loss. Senior lineman Shamar McDade-Bishop registered 5 tackles-for-loss while freshman Antonio Flournoy recorded 2 sacks and senior Kyle Johnston one.
St. Joseph now turns its attention to this Friday’s game at St. Ignatius, which is 3-1 but was tagged with its first loss of the season last Friday. The Chargers would need to win four of their last five games to be assured of a second consecutive postseason berth, but winning three games puts them in consideration for the playoffs.
“The thing about it is is that the next couple of games with playoff points and things like that, we might even be able to sneak in in (Class) 2A with (a) 5-4 (record) so I’m not really worried about that right now,” Petrowski said “This week we’ve got St. Ignatius and that’s going to be a big game. After that, as of yesterday (referring to Sept. 14) they still haven’t given up a point on offense so it’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be fun to watch.”