How Springfield High football lost momentum and its playoff game vs. Lemont
Though Lemont struggled to stop Springfield High’s offense in the first half, the Lemont defense nearly pitched a second-half shutout in a 73-36 Class 6A second round playoff game at Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
Meanwhile, the Senators couldn’t stop Lemont’s 6-foot-3, 210-pound running back, Albert Kunickis, who ran 33 times for 256 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught one pass for a score.
“We had things going really well for us in the first half," SHS coach Roy Gully said, "and things just didn’t go our way in the second half."
Top-seeded Lemont (11-0) advanced to meet Saturday’s winner between No. 4 Oak Lawn Richards (8-2) and No. 5 East St. Louis (8-2).
Springfield High ended its season 7-4 but won a playoff game for the first time since 2010 with a 94-72 record-setting victory over Rock Island in the first round.
The tenures of Gully and four-year starting quarterback Rashad Rochelle are finished. Gully announced his resignation after seven seasons — effective at the end of this season — almost two weeks ago. Rochelle has committed to play at Rutgers and will graduate from Springfield High in December.
The Senators had a chance to take control of momentum after holding Lemont to a 27-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left in the half. Springfield High had scored on each of its first four possessions, including a 96-yard kickoff return by Rochelle.
A Springfield score — especially if it ran out much of the remaining time in the second quarter — would’ve sent the Senators into the locker room with a two-score lead and been a monumental shot in the arm.
Instead, the Senators’ offense went three-and-out. With 51.8 seconds left, Lemont went down and scored to take its biggest lead, 31-28.
“We mismanaged the clock there; that’s totally on me,” Gully said. “We never should’ve allowed them to get the ball back. I think that possession shifted things.”
Lemont coach Bret Kooi agreed.
“I think it was,” Kooi said. “Right before half, I think we gained a lot of momentum and I felt going into the last two minutes, I thought they had the momentum. And all of a sudden with our little score at the end, it shifted things and made a difference for us at halftime.”
Though Rochelle hit Mitchell Logan for a 59-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the second half, the landscape had shifted. Two plays later, Lemont scored again to regain the lead — 38-36. And Lemont never stopped scoring and continued to widen the lead.
Things weren’t yet out of hand, trailing by two points, when an incomplete pass left Springfield facing a third-and-13 from its own 21. Rochelle dropped back to make a pass, saw an opening along the SHS sideline and ran for a 9-yard gain. After he stepped out of bounds, a Lemont defender dragged him down to nearly the Memorial Stadium track surface.
The home crowd booed and Gully pleaded with the side official to throw a penalty flag for a late hit — to no avail. Instead of first-and-10 from the SHS 45, Rochelle’s fourth-and-four from the Senators’ 30 fell incomplete.
“I think the other thing that shifted was when our quarterback got thrown nearly to the track out of bounds," Gully said. "… and everybody in the stadium saw it was a pretty violent, late hit — unsportsmanlike — but we didn’t get that late hit call."
Rochelle finished with 92 rushing yards on 21 carries and a touchdown; he also threw for 146 yards and two scores on eight completions. Logan caught three passes for 110 yards.
“I think our kids just started doing what we talked about,” Kooi said, “keeping (Rochelle) in the pocket and keep bracketing him inside.”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756, email@example.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.