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North Lawndale dominates Prosser

Michael Duckins ran for two touchdowns and helped spearhead another lockdown defensive effort in a 38-0 Illini Heartland win over Prosser on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

North Lawndale’s Michael Duckins (6) stiff arms a Prosser defender.
North Lawndale’s Michael Duckins (6) stiff arms a Prosser defender.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

When Michael Duckins transferred from Clark to North Lawndale after his sophomore year, he took note of the team’s 1-8 record the year before he arrived.

He told North Lawndale coach Samuel Willeford that wasn’t going to happen again.

“When I got here, it was all business,” Duckins said.

Now, with Duckins starting at running back and linebacker as a senior, the Phoenix are gearing up for the third IHSA playoff appearance in program history and their first since 2014.

Duckins ran for two touchdowns and helped spearhead another lockdown defensive effort in a 38-0 Illini Heartland victory over Prosser on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

North Lawndale (6-2, 5-0) had five shutouts in conference play and is looking to make some noise in Class 2A when the state playoffs start in two weeks.

The Phoenix have the ingredients for postseason success some Public League teams lack: reasonable depth for a small school with more than 30 players, an offense capable of moving the ball on the ground or through the air and that aggressive defense.

The offense mixes some of Duckins’ running with an effective dose of passing by sophomore quarterback Earnest Rice.

With Prosser (2-6, 0-5) geared up to stop the running game, Rice was able to find some wide-open receivers for touchdown passes. He threw a 49-yarder to Elijah Phipps, a 15-yarder to Cortez Roach and a 22-yarder to Tyquan Sanders, finishing 6-for-8 for 140 yards.

It has been something of a transition for Rice.

“Coming from eighth grade, we just ran the ball,” he said. “We never threw the ball.

“But I always knew I could throw, and my team just believed in me.”

It helps to have Duckins, who had nine carries for 63 yards, to soften up defenses.

“Michael is our muscle,” Willeford said. “He’s the leader of the team. He’s the heart and soul of the team.”

“Once we give the ball to Michael, everybody just runs to him,” Rice said. “That just opened up my receivers.”

Willeford likes Rice’s progress during the pandemic-shortened spring season and this season.

“He’s a great kid, a great athlete, and he wants to learn; that’s the best thing about it,” Willeford said. “He’s going to be something to watch in the upcoming years.”

Winning conference is significant, not just on the field but off it, as well, for the Phoenix, Willeford said.

“It means a lot to us and to the community,” he said. “Just a little sign of hope from the football team for the people that watch us is great right now for the community of Lawndale.”

The team’s rise is a tribute to the players’ perseverance, Willeford added.

“Some of these boys have been here for three years,’’ Willeford said. ‘‘We had some tough outings in the first few years [during] COVID and the teachers’ strike.

‘‘But now we’re here, conference champs, and ready to take on state [playoffs].”