By: John Nee '93
The St. Rita Mustangs will travel to Country Club Hills this Saturday 3pm to battle the Hillcrest Hawks with a trip to the Class 5A State Semifinals on the line. The Mustangs and Hawks are both riding long winning streaks coming into the contest with Hillcrest winning ten straight following a season-opening 26-20 loss at Brother Rice while St. Rita has won seven straight after starting the season (1-3) and on the brink of missing the playoffs.
Hillcrest is led by their do-it-all running back, defensive back, kick and punt returner, and kicker Mar'keise "Bucky" Irving, who has offers to Michigan and Wisconsin among several others. Irving, a junior, originally was set to attend St. Rita, but after attending summer school prior to his freshman year, transferred to Morgan Park before finally settling at Hillcrest his sophomore year. He led Hillcrest to the Class 5A State Semifinals in 2018 before losing at eventual 5A champion Joliet Catholic. The Hawks, though, are not just the Bucky show as senior running back Darius Dawson, who will be attending Miami(OH) on a football scholarship, shares carries with Irving. The Hawks also boast a tough front line led by junior Northern Illinois recruit Jakai Washington, who will play on both sides of the ball for Hillcrest. In fact, as many as eight Hawks will line up on both sides of the ball in the game. Hillcrest is coming off a convincing 28-7 second-round win at Fenwick.
St. Rita is led by their dynamic sophomore running back Kaleb Brown who boasts offers to both Michigan and Notre Dame amongst many others. Brown rushed for 245 yards last week while adding a 46-yard reception to total three touchdowns in the Mustang's convincing 32-0 road win over the top-seed in the northern bracket, Sterling. The story of St. Rita's second-round win, though, was their defense as first-year Defensive Coordinator Terry Quinn's unit produced their third shutout of the season while holding the high-powered Golden Warrior offense to well under 100 yards in the game. Junior defensive lineman Mykhai Harris had a huge game as he lived in the Sterling backfield all afternoon long. He also added an interception which set up a third-quarter Brown touchdown run all but putting the Golden Warrior's hopes to advance on ice. Senior defensive back Zenin Hall would add a fourth quarter interception which he returned to the Sterling four-yard line setting up senior back-up running back Jayden "the Bus" Edwards touchdown run for the Mustangs final score of the game.
The only common opponent for Hillcrest and St. Rita during the regular season was the Richards Bulldogs who beat the Mustangs back in week 2 at Richards 35-28 while the Hawks beat the Bulldogs the next week 34-17 as Richards lost its star running back Leshon Williams to injury in the second quarter.
The winner of Saturday afternoon's contest will advance to the IHSA Class 5A State Semifinals against the winner of Sycamore and Rockford Boylan also set to be played Saturday afternoon in Rockford. If the Mustangs advance, they are guaranteed to host the semifinals at Doyle Stadium next Saturday November 23rd.