St. Francis shakes off uncertainty, wallops Clark
For St. Francis, Saturday's 45-0 Class 4A first-round football playoff victory over Clark was more fun than a bye week ever could be.
Clark (5-4), a member of the Chicago Public League, saw its playoff hopes jeopardized by a teachers' strike that ended just in time for the Eagles to play the game. They only got the minimum three days of practice, however, and it showed.
Clark fumbled seven times, losing two. Twice St. Francis gang-tackled quarterback Trevon Sanders in the end zone for safeties.
"We haven't had contact in two weeks, so it hurt a lot," Clark coach Kevin Simmons said, adding his team also missed a few players due to injury and other reasons. "I mean, (the Spartans) are a good team, very disciplined. ...
"It is just a bad mix all together. And then us having two days practice off of being off a week and a half doesn't help when you play a team like this."
Even St. Francis felt the effects of the uncertainty.
"We prepared like we were going to play a game," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. "It got to be a distraction. It was tough. I understand it was tough for the city schools, but it's tough for us. Do we go a full practice? Do we take it easy so we can give them a rest? It was kinda one of those.
"It's a tough decision for the IHSA, but I'm glad those boys got to play. I'm glad Clark was able to come out and play."
Leading 2-0 after one quarter, St. Francis kicked its offense into gear in the second quarter. The Spartans led 38-0 at halftime, coming just a missed 2-point conversion pass from having a running clock for the entire second half.
"Today was a slow start, but we always come through," Spartans senior offensive lineman Kevin O'Connell said.
Quarterback Michael Baffa, starting in place of the injured Tommy Rittenhouse, ran for a touchdown and threw for two more to receiver Ryan French before leaving the game late in the second quarter.
Running back Ben Radel added a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
"We started off slow, and there are things we've got to work on," McMillen said. "We looked confused blocking early in the game, but we were able to clean it up. I thought Michael and (backup quarterback Jackson Gerard) both came in and did a nice job for us. Ben Radel again was a workhorse for us in the backfield. And then you can't say enough about our defense. Our defense was flying around making plays."
Junior Calvin Piemonte's 2-yard touchdown run with 5:32 to play in the third quarter gave the Spartans a 45-point lead and a running clock the rest of the game.
The St. Francis offense marked its ninth game scoring 40 points or more. The St. Francis defense recorded its fifth shutout of the season.
The fourth-seeded Spartans (9-1) will host No. 5 Genoa-Kingston (9-1) next week in the second round.
"It means a ton," O'Connell said. "We're really excited and we're excited to play the next opponent."