The Fenwick High School football team entered its IHSA Class 5A first-round playoff game knowing it would be a challenge to slow down Morgan Park’s high-powered offense.
But while the defense held up rather well, it was the offense that ultimately doomed the Friars in a 14-6 loss to the Mustangs on Oct. 29 at Gately Stadium in Chicago.
“That’s the toughest offense we’ve seen all year,” said Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia. “With the amount of speed they have on the field, no words can describe how I feel about how the defense played. They kept us in the game.”
Morgan Park (9-1) drove to the Fenwick 4-yard line on the game’s opening possession, but Marcus Thaxton’s pass on fourth and goal was incomplete and resulted in a turnover on downs.
The Friars (5-5), buoyed by runs from Will Gladden and Luke D’Alise, got as far as the Mustangs’ 28 on their opening drive, but E.J. Hosty’s incomplete pass on fourth and 3 gave the ball back to Morgan Park.
The Mustangs then capitalized as Thaxton hit Christopher Durr Jr. for a 34-yard completion to move into Fenwick territory. Then on fourth and 10 from the Friars’ 26, the duo connected for a 26-yard touchdown reception. Thaxton followed by hitting Jahmare Washington for a 2-point conversion and an 8-0 Morgan Park lead at the 2:33 mark of the first quarter.
Hosty was intercepted by Morgan Park’s Jovan Clark on Fenwick’s next possession at the Friars’ 29. However, the defense stood tall and forced the Mustangs to turn over the ball on downs.
Early in the second quarter, Hosty was stripped of the ball by Clark while scrambling, and his fumble was recovered by Morgan Park’s Dion Andrews on the Fenwick 15. But the Friars’ defense held as Mirko Jaksic sacked Thaxton on fourth down.
Late in the half, Jaksic thwarted another scoring threat when he read a screen pass and intercepted Thaxton at his 41-yard line.
Fenwick finally got going offensively to start the second half as the Friars went 68 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown, D’Alise doing the honors with a 10-yard burst up the middle at 5:38 of the third quarter. However, the 2-point conversion failed, leaving the score 8-6.
D’Alise, a junior, had a huge night, gaining 176 yards on 23 carries along with a 15-yard reception.
“Luke’s a warrior,” Battaglia said. “Thank God he’s coming back.”
Unfortunately, Gladden suffered a serious injury during the drive while running the ball. There was about a 15-minute delay as an ambulance was called to transport him to a local hospital. As of press time, no further information was available.
Morgan Park responded by going 80 yards in 12 plays as Thaxton found Durr over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown strike. But the Mustangs were stopped on a two-point conversion run, keeping the score 14-6 with :50.6 left in the third quarter.
Three consecutive D’Alise runs totaling 49 yards got Fenwick into the Morgan Park red zone early in the final quarter. But the Mustangs’ defense stiffened and forced the Friars to give the ball up on downs with 8:35 left. It would turn out to be Fenwick’s final real threat for the evening as the offense never moved the ball back inside Morgan Park territory.
Fenwick ran the ball well, rushing for just over 200 yards. But the offense was one-dimensional as Hosty completed just five passes in 14 attempts for 53 yards. Defensively, Jaksic had five tackles (two sacks) and an interception.
“They played their hearts out, there is no doubt about it,” said Battaglia. “All season, our guys played with extreme effort. We’ve gotten better each week.”
Despite the loss, the Friars now enter the Prep Bowl playoffs. They’ll have a bye this week with their opponent to be determined later.