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Oak Forest's Tyler Usterbowski (2) scores a touchdown on a sixty-nine yard run against Shepard. | Allen Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
If there was any concern Friday about Oak Forest defeating Shepard for a second time in one season, it was erased with a dominant first-half performance.
Oak Forest scored on its first seven possessions of the first half, opening up a 41-7 lead and coasting to a 69-29 win over Shepard in a Class 6A second-round tilt in Palos Heights.
The Bengals registered a 45-21 win over the Astros back in Week 4.
Oak Forest (10-1) advances the 6A quarterfinals and plays the winner of Lemont and Richards.
“We talked to the kids about last year and games we shouldn’t have lost and how teams can come back and beat you,” Oak Forest coach Brian McDonough said. “We played well tonight. We’ve been really clicking on offense.”
The Bengals gained 362 yards on the ground in the first 24 minutes, spreading the wealth between Tyler Usterbowski, Ben Santiago, Kyle Hullinger, Nick Ciufia and Tom Zale.
Oak Forest finished with 602 yards of total offense — 457 of which could be attributed to its ground attack.
Usterbowski led the way with 168 yards rushing on just six carries. He scored on runs of 69 and 21 yards and also hauled in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Zale (4-of-8, 139 yards, three touchdowns).
Santiago (14 carries, 111 yards) scored four touchdowns, covering four, 57, two and five yards. Hullinger (six carries, 80 yards) and Ryan Walton had touchdown receptions of four and 32 yards, respectively.
“We all share the ball and try to do what’s best for the team,” Usterbowski said. “It’s hard to beat a team twice, but we knew what we had to do and did it.”
To Shepard’s credit, they never relented in their pursuit of victory.
Trailing 48-15, the Astros (7-4) rallied behind the duo of quarterback Jimmy McClinton (24-of-38, 310 yards) and Londell Lee (14 catches, 215 yards, four touchdowns). When Lee scored from 36 yards out with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Shepard had closed to within 48-29.
However, Oak Forest’s Tom Livingston caught the ensuing onside kick and rambled 50 yards for the score to eliminate any thoughts of a comeback.
“We told the kids at the half to have pride in what you do and play hard,” Shepard coach Dominic Passolano said. “We kept it exciting for a little while. Oak Forest is a very good team, they have hard-nosed kids and they’re well-coached.”
The Bengals defense, led by Brendan Power, Zach Westerhoff, Andrew McCann, Alec Brown and Livingston, limited Shepard’s rushing attack to 48 yards.
The offensive line of Jack Cramer, Ricky Vargas, Jerry Conte, Mike Schoefeld and Mark Castrejon opened large holes all night long.
“We’ve had a great year so far,” Brown said. “I think some of us got a little comfortable for a while tonight. But we regained our focus.”