After going 0-22 against outside competition in the first round of the IHSA playoffs, the Public League was looking for any win — let alone a signature victory.
But that’s what No. 12 Morgan Park delivered Saturday afternoon at Gately Stadium, rallying from 11 points down at halftime to beat No. 21 Sycamore 27-21 in a Class 5A second-round game.
The Mustangs (10-1) are heading to the quarterfinals for the second straight season after beating a team that was headlined by Iowa commit Blake Gautcher and coming off two straight trips to the 5A semifinals.
“We’re not a regular CPS team,” junior safety Ahmad Grayer said. “We try to tell people that. They just don’t want to believe us.”
But the Mustangs altered the narrative, producing big plays on both sides of the ball after trailing 18-7 at halftime.
Quarterback Marcus Thaxton was 11 for 13 for 168 yards, including a 76-yard TD to Chris Durr, with one interception. The junior, who has offers from Kent State and New Mexico State, also had a 28-yard touchdown run.
“That’s as well as he’s thrown the ball,” Morgan Park coach Chris James said of Thaxton. “He got his scholarship offer he was worried about — you’ve got to live up to being this guy. And then once that weight came off his shoulders, he let the ball go,”
Keshawn Lewis-Hunt ran 18 times for 81 yards and two TDs, including a four-yarder that broke a 21-21 tie with 6:29 left in the game.
Lewis-Hunt, a transfer from Bremen, added a power running dimension for Morgan Park this season that just makes the passing game that much more effective.
“It means everything,” Durr, a Wyoming commit, said. “I don’t get double-teamed so it spreads the offense around. He can get us 30, he can get us 40, he can get us one yard if we need it.”
What the Mustangs needed at the end of the game was a big play from the defense.
After Lewis-Hunt’s go-ahead touchdown, Sycamore (9-2) took over at its own 43 and drove into the red zone for a first down at the Morgan Park 13. But Illinois commit Tysean Griffin stripped the ball from Diego Garcia at the 2-yard line and Grayer recovered the ball in the end zone.
“One of our things is, the first person there, you wrap up,” Grayer said. “The next person, you strip the ball. We know we needed a turnover, we needed a big stop and we got it.”
Durr’s reaction mirrored that of his teammates.
“I was so happy, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I cried. Tears came to my eyes, tears of joy.”
Morgan Park took over with 2:09 remaining and ran out the clock.
Was this as good a win as James has had?
“As good as the Peoria win [in the 2021 first round],” he said. “But the next win will be better.”
For Sycamore, Gautcher threw a 26-yard TD pass to Kyle Prebil, Tyler Curtis ran for 59 yards and a score, Thatcher Friedrichs kicked two field goals and Garcia had a game-high 109 rushing yards.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Gautcher said. “There’s also good things [but] Morgan Park has a really good team. We just had to play better.”