Simeon captures Public League title

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You never know quite what to expect when neighborhood rivals Simeon and Morgan Park meet on the football field.

The Public League powers played one of the stranger games of the regular season back in September, a contest that was suspended because of an altercation in the stands and finished two days later, hours before the Chicago Public Schools teachers strike began.

Friday night’s rematch for the Public League title at Gately Stadium had its share of odd moments as well, including a pair of special-teams touchdowns – one on the first play of the game.

But the result was the same as before: a Simeon win, this time by a 35-14 margin. The Wolverines (10-2) head back to the Prep Bowl next Friday at Soldier Field against the winner of Saturday’s Catholic League final between Brother Rice and St. Rita.

The star for Simeon on Friday was junior Darnell Cockrell, who caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Elcee Burke 1:03 before halftime to erase a 14-13 deficit. He then put the game on ice by running a punt back 76 yards for a score with 10:40 left in the fourth quarter.

Cockrell and his teammates were determined to wipe out the bad memories not only of that earlier Morgan Park game (which Simeon won 13-6) but also of a 41-6 loss to Mount Carmel two weeks ago in the IHSA playoffs.

“We felt like the first time [against Morgan Park] it wasn’t a fair game because of the crowds and all that,” Cockrell said. “We’re glad we had a civilized game. …

“There were mistakes on the field when we played Mount Carmel. That was a good team, they just beat us. We had to come out here and win a city championship.”

Morgan Park (8-5) got Simeon’s attention early when junior Charles Bournes took the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a score. Bournes also scored on a 27-yard reverse with 3:08 left in the second quarter to give the Mustangs their last lead at 14-13.

“Good blocking up front, he saw the hole and he hit it,” Morgan Park coach Wesley Yates said of Bournes’ first score. “He just turned on the speed.”

Simeon, meanwhile, turned on the defensive pressure. John Gardner picked off a pass from Morgan Park quarterback Andre Newell on the last play of the first half. Jabaree Winston and Korey Giles had interceptions in the fourth quarter after Cockrell’s second touchdown.

It was an inspired effort by a Simeon secondary playing without senior Aaron Banks, who has nine Division I offers and is done for the season after undergoing ACL surgery on Thursday.

“We knew what [Morgan Park] wanted to do,” Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. “I think they showed it in the … Raby game [last week]. I think they [were] trying to hold onto it but they had to bring it out.”

Simeon also had a 17-yard touchdown pass from Burke to Gardner in the first quarter, Burke’s 10-yard scoring run in the second and a five-yard touchdown run by Burke in the third. The latter score was set up by a 55-yard run by DaRell Thomas (14 carries, 144 yards).

Yates was encouraged by the growth his team showed in his first season as coach.

“I’m really surprised with how well they picked up and played,” he said. “One thing that hurt us [was] the team not having an offseason weightlifting program. I think they more or less manhandled us at some positions where I felt, if we were stronger, we would have been more competitive tonight.”

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