Curie running back/linebacker Anthony Watson is one of the city’s dominant forces. The senior is the Condors’ best player on offense and defense.
So when he exited the game with an injury during the first series on Thursday at Rockne Stadium, there was plenty of cause for concern. Curie already had more guys playing both sides of the ball than Simeon, now they were also without their leader.
Condors coach Jay McDonagh turned to sophomore running back AJ Sanya and he plowed through the Wolverines for 149 yards to help Curie to a 28-21 victory over Simeon.
“That’s a huge win for us,” McDonagh said. “It’s our first conference championship in 15 years so it means a lot.”
Sanya carried the ball 21 times. His three-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter tied the game at 21.
“Anthony told me I had to step up and be a leader,” Sanya said. “He led us the whole year. We have to give it all to [the offensive line]. That’s the best offensive line in the state we are running behind.”
Junior quarterback Ja’ki McNeil busted loose for the game-winner, a 40-yard touchdown run, with 8:28 to play. Then he came up big on the defensive end, grabbing an interception on the goal line to end Simeon’s final drive and seal the win.
“I knew he was going to throw it so I just stepped up, stayed in my zone and picked it off,” McNeil said.
Curie’s sturdy offensive line and hard-nosed running attack is well-known throughout the city. The Condors don’t pass the ball often, so Simeon was caught off guard by McNeil’s arm in the first half. He connected with Jamari Chamberlain for a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter and then found Mike Olive for a 74-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“People don’t expect us to pass the ball,” Sanya said. “They were definitely surprised.”
McNeil finished 4-for-4 for 135 yards passing. He also had nine carries for 85 yards.
Watson hurt his ankle last week against North Lawndale, so the Condors spent the week preparing for the possibility he wouldn’t be able to play.
“[Watson] is an unbelievable player, a Division I player,” McDonagh said. “It says a lot for us to keep going without him. The kids responded. I think we’ve gotten better defensively since (losing to) Morgan Park.”
Curie (7-1, 5-0 Illini Red Bird) has four sophomores and a freshman regularly playing in the defensive backfield, so they’ve been learning on the job throughout the season.
The loss could dash Simeon’s state playoff hopes. The Wolverines (4-4, 4-1) will have most of their starters back next year, so the future is bright.
Curie has won the last two city titles and played in the state playoffs the past two years. They’ll be back in the mix this season and are hoping to advance past the first round.
“Our offensive line is as strong as anybody’s, not just [in the Public League],” McDonagh said. “We take pride in running the ball. I think we are giving ourselves a chance to win.”