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Brandon Palmer of Simeon reaches for a touchdown pass. The pass was incomplete. | Patrick Gleason ~ For Sun-Times Media
It was back to action, but not exactly back to normal for Simeon and Curie on Sunday afternoon.
Simeon was one of the last two Public League football teams to play before the teachers strike, completing a victory over Morgan Park on Sept. 9 after having the game suspended because of an altercation and a stabbing at Gately Stadium two days before.
This game, won 40-14 by Simeon, had been scheduled for Friday at Lane. But it was shifted to Sunday at Gately Stadium to accommodate the three days of practice mandated by the Illinois High School Association after the week-long strike.
Though the teams were back with their coaches, there were signs of rust. Curie had two kicks blocked, while Simeon piled up 150 yards of penalties.
Then there were two lengthy delays to tend to injured players who were taken off the field on stretchers to waiting ambulances, Simeon’s Mitchell Benton and Curie’s Alondre Pickens.
“Eight days off, the two long [delays for] injuries — it made the game difficult to play,” Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. “We [were] pretty successful today, but it was sloppy.”
The time off surely has something to do with that. Ditto for the sense of urgency teams feel. The stakes have been raised for everyone in the Public League in the wake of the strike, which cost most city football teams one of the nine games on its schedule. (Only teams in the Inter-City 3 section, made up entirely of charter schools, will play a full schedule.)
Halfway through the regular season, Simeon still looks like the Public League team with the best chance of making an impact in the IHSA playoffs. “This is by far the best team in the city,” Curie coach Jay McDonagh said of the Wolverines (3-1, 1-0 Illini Red Bird).
But as Culbreath said, his club needs to get better if it hopes to do much in the stacked Class 8A bracket. That’s one reason he kept playing as if it were a tight game even after the Wolverines broke it open with two touchdowns in a 78-second span of the fourth quarter.
“We got some stuff going late,” Culbreath said. “We just wanted to keep on working because we [were] off. Normally we would just shut it down. But we had to keep working and trying to jell what we were not able to do [during the layoff].”
The Wolverines got a scare when quarterback Elcee Burke re-aggravated an ankle injury and briefly had to leave the game. But he returned to throw his fourth and fifth touchdown passes of the day, finishing with two scoring throws apiece to Kalynn Johnson and John Gardner along with one to Girard Jenkins.
Developing some more big-play options is critical to Simeon’s postseason hopes. Besides the growing numbers of go-to receivers, the Wolverines also are showcasing some depth at running back with Jordan Jackson and Dion Earls joining Sharoid Roach in the mix.
“We’re very deep at running back,” Culbreath said. “They’re young, but really talented.”
While Simeon is gearing up for a postseason run, Curie (1-3, 0-1) is hoping that’s a possibility. The Condors are a team in transition after losing coach Tyson LeBlanc to Oswego East and multitalented Maurice Fleming to Iowa. Curie has a new staff, led by McDonagh, a new offense and a new defense along with a roster that has just six seniors.
“I’m proud of our kids,” McDonagh said. “It got away from us in the fourth quarter, but that’s going to happen against a team like that.”
The Condors have some playmakers, including quarterback Jerome Thomas (who threw two touchdown passes) and receivers Jovanni Cooper and Lavontae Jones (who each had a scoring reception). But the last things the young Condors needed was time away from their coaches and one less game against a beatable city opponent.
Still, that’s the hand Public League teams have been dealt. They have to make the best of it.