Information about this story.
- Word count: 1,391.
- Photo gallery.
- 3 stars.
- Simeon players mentioned: Jayshon Jackson, Arkalius Howard, Alante Brown, Tierre Turner, Anthony Williams, Ronald Gaines III, Jayden O’Neal, Dominique Reed, Leon Payne and Damani Reed.
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By: Eric Van Dril
Simeon trailed Mount Carmel by 21 points in the Prep Bowl when junior Jayshon Jackson took over at quarterback.
The Caravan had scored two touchdowns in the first two minutes, 28 seconds of the second quarter to go ahead by 21. They were on the verge of blowing the game wide open.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, needed a spark. They had to reverse the momentum in a game Mount Carmel ended up winning 42-28 on Friday, Nov. 25.
Jackson knew that before he took his first snap at quarterback.
His mentality “was just, ‘Come in and make changes,’” Jackson said. “My mindset was that we needed to score.”
The Wolverines (8-6) began at their own 32-yard line. Then, they started to move the ball. Senior running back Arkalius Howard picked up yards on the ground. Jackson ran for 14. Simeon gained another 15 when Mount Carmel was whistled for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
The Wolverines made it all the way down to the Caravan’s 15-yard line with under seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Jackson received the snap on the next play.
He sprinted to the right, made it near the sideline and then stopped on a dime as a Mount Carmel defensive back tried to tackle him. Senior Phazione McClurge, the would-be tackler, whiffed on Jackson’s juke move, which sent Jackson airborne.
Despite flying through the air — which you can seen in the photo at the top of this story — Jackson managed to push off of the turf at Gately Stadium and lunge forward. As he was falling to the turf, he stretched the ball over the goal line for a touchdown.
Jackson converted the ensuing two-point conversion to cut Mount Carmel’s lead to 21-8.
“He most definitely stepped up and played a big role,” Howard said. “He took charge tonight. … He led the team.”
The Caravan (8-5) responded with a long touchdown drive that was capped off by a seven-yard rush by quarterback Alek Thomas, who came through with several clutch throws in the game. Thomas scored with 49.4 remaining in the half.
Simeon got the ball back. Then, Jackson made another huge play.
This time, it was on a run that was just as spectacular as his first — if not more so.
The Wolverines moved to the Mount Carmel 49-yard line when Simeon coach Dante Culbreath called a deep pass play. Jackson received a shotgun snap and his wide receivers ran downfield.
Jackson saw the Caravan in man-to-man coverage. He didn’t see anybody open.
“Everybody moved out of the way,” Jackson said. “It was a clear (lane), so I took it.
Jackson sprinted straight upfield.
He made it about 15 yards downfield before the first Mount Carmel tackler closed in. Instead of sliding for the first down, Jackson elected to stay on his feet and tried to produce another huge play.
Jackson once again juked to his left. He didn’t get airborne this time. Instead, he kept running. He used his downfield blockers to get closer and closer to the end zone. Multiple Mount Carmel tacklers were around him, but he made one last push and fought for a touchdown — just like how Howard so often fights for the end zone, Jackson said after the game.
Jackson bulled his way into the end zone for a 49-yard score. There were 21.8 seconds remaining. Simeon, once on the verge of being blown out, only trailed 27-14 at halftime.
“Before the half ended … I was able to put up another six points to get us to a (manageable) deficit,” Jackson said. “We came out in the second half fired (up), but we came up short.”
In the end, turnovers doomed the Wolverines.
They committed five in the game — two fumbles, three interceptions — and that proved to be too much against a program as strong as Mount Carmel. The Caravan finished with two turnovers.
“No matter who we play, we can’t make mistakes,” Jackson said. “That was way too many turnovers for us. We still had a chance. If we (cancelled) out the turnovers, this game would be won by us.”
Although it made mistakes, Simeon kept fighting. Jackson made two spectacular plays — he also ran for a touchdown in the second half, and threw one to Howard — and none of the Wolverines hung their heads or gave up.
That was even true late in the fourth quarter as Mount Carmel led 42-28. The Caravan got the ball back after Howard’s 12-yard touchdown reception — one where he caught a swing pass, took contact and managed to somehow stay on his feet — and a Simeon defender forced a fumble on the first play of the drive.
Junior offensive/defensive lineman Tierre Turner recovered the fumble.
Jackson was intercepted by senior safety Macauley Kilbane shortly thereafter, but the way the Wolverines played reflected one of the key attributes of this year’s Public League champions.
“I’m proud of how we fought the whole season,” Howard said. “We were battle-tested a lot throughout the season and took a lot more (losses) than we usually (take), but we stuck it out as a team and we played until the last week of high-school football in Illinois — and gave ourselves a chance in the Prep Bowl.”
The never-give-up attitude is one Howard, Simeon’s captain, played with all season. It’s a mentality he said he hopes next year’s team leaders — players like Jackson, Turner and others — take with them and apply to 2017.
“Never give up no matter what,” Howard said. “I never gave up. I always came to practice — through any injury I had. I always fought through everything. I hope they never give up next year as well.”
Howard and Jackson agreed that Simeon has a ton of potential, looking ahead to next year.
Jackson and Turner — two CPLFCA first-team all-city selections — are both slated to return. So too are many other key contributors, including: quarterback Alante Brown, the majority of Simeon’s wide-receiving core, sophomore running back Anthony Williams, linebacker Jayden O’Neal and center Ronald Gaines III.
That list doesn’t include standout defensive back Dominique Reed, who didn’t play for the Wolverines in the playoffs due to an injury, and several other players who contributed in the Prep Bowl.
“The (team) that’s coming back is very explosive, in my eyes,” Howard said. “We’re just a young team. The (players) coming back, they can grow and they can lead. It’s going to be very exciting.”
Jackson added: “I think we have a lot of potential. I just want to be a leader to my younger teammates, like my seniors were to me.”
*** Jackson finished with 14 carries for 161 yards and three scores. He was 7-for-13 for 137 yards, one touchdown and 2 interceptions. He was named Simeon’s Prep Bowl MVP after the game.
*** Howard rushed 14 times for 96 yards. He caught two passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. He was also very effective on kick returns.
*** Seven different Wolverines caught at least one pass. Junior Leon Payne (one catch, 29 yards) and senior Damani Reed (two catches, 26 yards) had the second- and third-most receiving yards for Simeon.
*** Mount Carmel senior Michael Kennedy, a Northern Illinois recruit, rushed 18 times for 190 yards and a touchdown. He suffered a scary injury early in the fourth quarter, however, when he appeared to be knocked unconscious. An ambulance came to Gately Stadium and attended to the stand-out running back, who was named Mount Carmel’s Prep Bowl MVP after the game. Kennedy was able to move his arms and legs before he was taken off of the field on a stretcher.
Afterward, Kennedy Tweeted that he’s OK.
@___10kBeauty___ I’m good thanks for checking on me
— Michael Kennedy (@mike_kennedy5) November 26, 2016
*** Thomas finished 9-for-10 for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored a rushing touchdown. Several of his throws came on key third-down situations.
*** Junior Aristotle Nakos (12 carries, 67 yards, two touchdowns), sophomore Eddie McGee, senior Phazione McClurge and sophomore Jahleel Billingsley all scored at least one touchdown for the Caravan.
*** Mount Carmel has now won 10 Prep Bowl championships. Simeon has only won once. The Wolverines beat Brother Rice in 2012.