Back-to-back: Simeon captures 4A Championship


Back-to-back: Simeon captures 4A Championship

Saturday, March 19, 2011
Posted: 11:26 p.m.

By Michael O'Brien

PEORIA Simeon coach Robert Smiths reaction after the buzzer sounded on his second consecutive state title was muted. He shrugged his shoulders and shook some hands. It has become routine.

The Wolverines have dominated the state since Smith took over the program from his mentor Bob

Simeon has won four state titles and finished second once in his seven seasons. This is his second time winning back-to-back big school titles. Hes won with and without Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker and is widely recognized as one of the top coaches in the country.

There has been talk of Smith leaving Simeon for assistant and even head coaching jobs in the collegiate ranks, but hes staying put at Simeon for now.

Its been a great run, Smith said. It came soon (in his career), sooner than most. But it comes from hardwork from my entire staff. It never gets old. This was probably the hardest one because everyone expected us to do it from Day 1. Last year was fun because nobody expected us to do what we did.

Sophomore Jabari Parker didnt play a major role in the Wolverines win last year, after suffering an injury during the game. But he was clearly the star on Saturday scoring 12 points to lead Simeon to a 48-39 win over Warren in the Class 4A state championship game at Carver Arena.

We just believe in each other, Parker said. We are a team that prides itself on the way we play and being thorough.

The win wasnt a command performance and it wasnt particularly pretty. However it was brutally effective. Warren never held the lead. Nathan Boothes jumper to open the second half made it 24-22, but the Wolverines (30-2) just kept extending the lead after that.

Junior Steve Taylor, who didnt play in the title game last season, dominated the glass. He finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. Rashawn McElrath added eight points and nine rebounds. McElrath was a key cog on last seasons championship team.

There was no way I was going to not finish this game and get the repeat, McElrath said. Im a senior. I feel good to be a part of the Simeon program and I can look back on my career and know I was a part of something special.

Darius Paul led the Blue Devils (31-4) with 11 points. Brandon Ferguson added nine points and Jeremiah Jackson scored eight and grabbed seven rebounds.

Simeon jumped out to a 19-9 lead, as Warrens offense was sloppy from the outset and slow to find any tempo. Paul and Boothe got more comfortable late in the half as Warren closed the second quarter with an 11-5 run and trailed Simeon 24-20 at the half. Paul scored six points in the run and Boothe used his bulky 6-8 frame to get his first basket in the post.

We didnt make our shots, Warren coach Chuck Ramsey said. We held them to 48 and if we could have done that I would have liked our chances."

A three from Ferguson with 31 seconds to play cut the Simeon lead 43-38, but as they have throughout the playoffs, the Wolverines put away the victory at the free-throw line, shooting 5-for-6 from the stripe to seal the win.

Warrens size was expected to give Simeon some problems, and it actually did for a half. The Blue Devils outrebounded the Wolverines in the first half, but Simeon dominated the glass in the second half, finishing with a 35-26 advantage.

Its Simeons sixth state tile overall and the domination may continue, as Parker, Taylor and Kendrick Nunn all return for the Wolverines next season and they will likely begin the season as the top-ranked team in the state.

Maybe we can do it again next season, Smith said. We want to have the most state titles. We arent going to stop. We bring back a great core next season.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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