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O’Brien: Dijuan McCullom, Angelo Mayo connect to lead Kenwood past Hyde Park

Kenwood brought in Simeon assistant coach Marlo Finner last season to coach the basketball team. It was a controversial move around the city. Jim Maley had done a good job with the Broncos, but the Kenwood administration seemed to have bigger things in mind for the program.

Finner had a successful first year and has the Broncos poised to be one of the state’s elite teams in the upcoming season.

It worked once, so why not try it again.

Kenwood hired another Simeon assistant, offensive coordinator Jack Ramsey, to take over the football program this season. The Broncos lost their first two games, to Eisenhower and Westinghouse. But it has been a different story since Windy City conference play began. Kenwood has ripped off three consecutive wins, the latest a 27-14 victory over Hyde Park Thursday at Gately Stadium.

“We were really excited when we heard (Ramsey) was coming over,” Kenwood senior Najee Starks said. “We knew things would change with someone that had been at Simeon. It’s a great opportunity for us. Everything is different this season. All the plays, there is just more energy and we are executing better.”

Starks was one of the heroes for the Broncos (3-2, 3-0). Hyde Park (3-2, 2-1) was driving downfield, threatening to tie the score midway through the fourth quarter when the 5-10 defensive back intercepted a deflected pass at the Kenwood 35.

“That was big moment, the emotional moment for us,” Ramsey said. “Big players make big time plays and he’s one of the big players for us.”

Kenwood quarterback Dijuan McCullom was responsible for almost all of the Broncos’ other big moments. He was 6-for-15 passing for 119 yards and one touchdown and had eight rushes for 30 yards and two touchdowns.

The Broncos offense stuttered throughout the game, plagued by penalties and an inconsistent running game. But McCullom obviously has a special connection with junior wide receiver Angelo Mayo.

“That’s definitely the pair right there,” Ramsey said. “Those two are always staying after practice together, working on their stuff.”

That work paid off big on three different occasions. Mayo caught three passes for 100 yards in the game. The third was a 35-yard strike on a long fourth down in the fourth quarter.

“(McCullom) is my guy,” Mayo said. “I knew it would be coming so I was prepared and I managed to hold on to it.”

The big play took Kenwood to the Hyde Park 14. One play later McCullom made the most of a busted play, somehow managing to scamper 12 yards for the touchdown the sealed the win with 2:51 to play.

“It was supposed to be a handoff but I ended up having to make a play on it,” McCullom said. “I had to put the team on my back right there. I just did whatever I could to go for the endzone.”

Kwaku Abankuna had 16 rushes for 46 yards and junior BJ McCaskill caught three passes for 13 yards for Kenwood.

The Broncos led 21-0 at the half. Hyde Park scored early in the third quarter on a 30-yard interception return touchdown by TJ Steele.

“There was a momentum shift,” Ramsey said. “The offense didn’t come out attacking like I wanted it to, we turned the ball over on the first drive. But I like how my kids responded the dug down and kept fighting to the end.”