Information about this story.
- Word count: 970.
- 3 stars.
- Quinn Harris’ photo gallery.
- The Public League’s photo gallery.
- Simeon players mentioned: Rashawn Smith, Arkalius Howard, Alante Brown, Rahsul Katumbusi, Fawaz Ayoola, Tierre Turner, Meckah Lester, Ronald Gaines III, Anthony Williams Jr., Jayshon Jackson and Leon Payne.
- Curie players mentioned: AJ Sanya, Anthony Watson, Mike Olive and Ja’Ki McNeil.
By: Eric Van Dril
It was Rashawn Smith’s birthday on Friday, Nov. 18, and he and his teammates had the best kind of party.
Simeon beat Curie 36-14 to win the Chicago Public League championship. The Wolverines received the Public League championship plaque near the 50-yard line at Gately Stadium, and then they celebrated.
They celebrated near midfield. They celebrated as they ran off the field. They celebrated in their locker room.
“It feels great,” Smith, a senior defensive lineman, said. “It feels real great to win it on my birthday.”
Senior offensive/defensive lineman Rahsul Katumbusi agreed.
“It feels fantastic,” Katumbusi said. “I won it my freshman year. I was on the varsity team, so it feels good to get another one. This season, we worked hard to get this. We knew this is the only thing we could have (won). We couldn’t win state because we fell short, but we still kept fighting. We knew we had something to fight for. We didn’t stop. We kept pushing.”
Simeon (8-5) will play Mount Carmel in the Prep Bowl at 12 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, at Gately. The Wolverines beat Curie (10-3) to snap a two-game losing streak to the Condors. The streak began with a 30-point loss in last year’s Public League championship game.
Simeon beat Curie in large part because its offensive and defensive lines played at such a high level throughout the game.
Simeon’s offensive line — Katumbusi, Fawaz Ayoola, Tierre Turner, Meckah Lester and Ronald Gaines III — paved the way for a rushing attack that ran for 203 yards and four touchdowns. Senior running back Arkalius Howard had an especially strong game. He ran 13 times for 127 yards and three scores.
“Our offensive line was great,” Howard said. “They were driving. They were playing low, and just moving their feet.”
Simeon’s defensive line, meanwhile, came through with several huge plays.
Smith was in the middle of a pair of key, short-yardage stops. The first was on the last play of the first half. The Wolverines led 20-7 at the time, but Curie was able to move the ball all the way to the Simeon one-yard line. The final play of the first half was a run to the right for 205-pound sophomore AJ Sanya.
The power back tried to follow his big, athletic offensive line into the end zone, but Smith managed to spoil the play.
“They tried to pull, and I ended up pushing the guard into the running back,” Smith said. “That’s what stopped it. The running back tripped over and fell.”
When Sanya came up just short, the Wolverines enthusiastically sprinted to their locker room with their 13-point lead still intact.
“We were fired up,” Katumbusi said. But “we knew we had another half. We couldn’t stop. We had to keep fighting.”
Curie, as championship-caliber squads often do, fought back. Simeon got the ball to start the second half, but senior linebacker Mike Olive sacked Simeon quarterback Alante Brown and forced him to fumble. Sanya picked up the ball and ran it back to the Simeon 10-yard line.
Curie junior quarterback Ja’Ki McNeil scored on fourth-and-goal from the six to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 20-14.
Simeon’s offense answered right back, however, with an 80-yard drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run by Howard. Curie started its next drive at its own 30. It moved into Simeon territory, then faced a fourth-and-one at the 41.
Once again, the Condors tried to run Sanya to the right. Once again, Smith ruined the play.
“He tried to run outside. I got off my block,” said Smith, who tackled Sanya. “It was a great feeling. Like they say, big-time players make big-time plays. … We’ve got a ton of them.”
Smith and Howard, who sealed the win with a 14-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, came through in critical moments. But Simeon also received big-time plays from a slew of other players, including: Brown (2-for-3, 47 yards, one touchdown; 12 carries, 78 yards), its offensive and defensive linemen, sophomore running back Anthony Williams Jr., and junior wide receivers Jayshon Jackson and Leon Payne.
Payne and Williams both scored touchdowns in the first half. The Wolverines’ linebackers and safeties also played strong, physical, disciplined defense against a Curie rushing attack that few teams in the Public League have been able to slow down this season.
“We played the way we were expected to play,” Howard said. “Simeon’s always expected to play well. We don’t set the standard (any) lower. We just go out, play our football, concentrate and execute.”
Howard, Smith and Katumbusi are all seniors, but many of the Wolverines’ key contributors are not. Simeon is a young squad that has made a large amount of progress this season — including from their 28-21 loss to Curie in Week 8 to now.
Simeon’s players have made a “ton of growth,” Howard said. “We were battle-tested all year. We had to come out and show everybody that we could overcome what (happened) earlier this season.”
The Wolverines have won eight Public League football championships. They are one behind Vocational, the all-time leader.
Simeon will now face what figures to be an even-bigger challenge when it plays Mount Carmel next week. The Caravan finished the regular season 4-5 and didn’t make the state playoffs, but they beat Brother Rice to reach the Prep Bowl. The defending-Prep Bowl champions are a run-heavy team that is battle-tested and always seems to play its best football in November.
Playing the Caravan will be a huge test for the Wolverines, who are the last team from the Public League to win a Prep Bowl. They beat Brother Rice 14-12 in 2012.
“We’ve got to keep playing our game,” Katumbusi said, of Mount Carmel. “We’ve just got to keep fighting.”