Wild St. Francis loss comes down to final play
A chaotic game came down to the final snap of the night when a last-ditch St. Francis lateral fell short and Shepard won 49-46 on Friday night in Palos Heights.
The pace was set early on when Shepard quarterback Thomas Smith threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to teammate Jalen Smith on the third play from scrimmage. St. Francis responded with a 10-play scoring drive of its own within the game's first four minutes.
"Shepard was very athletic," said St. Francis coach Bob McMillen. "They were big, they were strong, they were fast and we knew that. The best thing we could hope for was to keep up with them."
That is exactly what happened. Both teams traded blows throughout a high-scoring affair that featured 457 yards of combined total offense in the first half.
"We wanted to open it up a lot more than we did last week," said Shepard coach John Rone. "We kind of got into a dragged-out, old-school, smashmouth football game with Leyden, but we've been practicing something to open it up a bit more. Obviously with a couple of longer touchdown passes we were able to do that."
Thomas Smith threw four touchdown passes on the evening, with three of them coming from 12, 18, and 25 yards out, in addition to the 80-yarder.
McMillen was confident in his team's offensive game plan as well, citing tendencies the Spartans targeted in preparation.
"We thought we could hold them up front," McMillen said. "We knew they blitzed a lot, so we took advantage of the blitz a lot. They made some good adjustments in the back with their (defensive backs)."
The game turned on an interception by Shepard's Jalen Smith. His playmaking ability took center stage and he snatched an errant St. Francis pass before taking it the distance in the other direction midway through the third quarter.
That play forced St. Francis into a position that it could never fully recover from.
"Obviously the interception return for a touchdown was huge," McMillen said. "We gave them too many big plays. Not to take anything away from them. (But) we gotta get better as a team."
The game featured 22 penalties, including a confusing series of events following the final play.
After the Spartans' lateral fell to the turf around midfield, a flag was thrown and the officials conferenced. It was determined that Shepard committed a dead-ball penalty after the play.
The St. Francis offense returned to the field for one last chance; however, the officials huddled once again, this time declaring the game over once and for all.
This led to disagreement from McMillen.
"They said that you don't get a replay of a down on a dead-ball foul," McMillen said. "My coaches know the rule book pretty good; they think that's wrong … I don't think it ever should end on a defensive penalty, and that was a defensive penalty, whether it's a dead ball or not."
Rone also offered the explanation that he received.
"It was a flag after the play, that's why the game was over," Rone said.