Jahmare Washington’s clutch defense helps Morgan Park survive Phillips. ‘You have to be a dog out there.’

Phillips gave the Public League’s top team all it could handle on Thursday at Gately Stadium.

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Morgan Park’s Jovan Clark (5), Jacob Ware (3) and Jahmare Washington (0) react during the game against Phillips.

Morgan Park’s Jovan Clark (5), Jacob Ware (3) and Jahmare Washington (0) react during the game against Phillips.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Jahmare Washington isn’t one of Morgan Park’s big-name stars. The 6-2 junior played wide receiver last season. This year, he’s a defensive back. And he catches the eye immediately.

Washington is lean and fast and plays with confidence. He looks ready to jump the receiver for an interception on every play.

He had one pick in the No. 15 Mustangs’ 24-20 victory against Phillips on Thursday at Gately Stadium. But it wasn’t his biggest moment. That came on the Wildcats’ last offensive play, a fourth-down pass play that was their last chance to win the game.

“See ball, get ball,” Washington said. “You have to be a dog out there. The team needs you, and you have to hold yourself accountable. The game was on the line.”

Washington broke up the play. The Phillips sideline pleaded for pass interference, but the flag never came, and Morgan Park (3-1, 2-0 Public Red) survived an unexpectedly tough challenge.

“We weren’t as prepared as we should have been,” Mustangs quarterback Marcus Thaxton said. “Playing on Thursday afternoon was different, and we came out being lazy and thinking it was going to be easy.”

Thaxton was 9-for-13 for 104 yards and one touchdown. Senior running back Keshawn Lewis-Hunt carried the Morgan Park offense with 24 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns. His two-yard run with 4:31 left provided the winning margin.

“The team needed me, and I had to come through,” Lewis-Hunt said. “We just made a lot of mistakes. We’re a good football team. We just need to click on all cylinders.”

The Mustangs’ offense never seemed to click. Morgan Park coach Chris James said he’s missing four injured offensive linemen.

“We need to get healthy,” James said. “But Phillips played hard. They have a lot of history, and when they started making plays, it gave them confidence.”

Wildcats senior quarterback Joe Winslow Jr. played with a spark. He was 9-for-14 for 184 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception.

Treyshaun Green had four receptions for 115 yards, including touchdown catches of 39 and five yards. The second touchdown put the Wildcats (2-2, 1-1) ahead 20-18 late in the first half. They held the lead until the final four minutes.

“We have a really good team this year, and we are led by some good guys,” Phillips coach Joe Winslow Sr. said. “But in the first quarter, the lights were too bright. Even for my coaching staff. They were fired up even more than the kids. I had to calm them down. The kids feed off that energy.”

Herschel Willie had 17 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats, likely a Class 4A team in the state playoffs.

Phillips’ close loss to a ranked team will open eyes around the city. Morgan Park and Kenwood are considered the best teams in the Public League, with Simeon in the next tier and a lot of questions after that.

The Wildcats proved they shouldn’t be overlooked. Their other loss was at Batavia.

“We have to shake this one off,” Winslow Sr. said. “It’s a long road. There are some more wins for us to go get, and we’re gonna get them.”

Morgan Park gets to enjoy a wake-up call that didn’t result in a loss. The Mustangs have Class 5A state-title aspirations. Their only loss came in a competitive road game against top-ranked Mount Carmel.

“[Washington] stepped up at the end,” James said. “But we have to play better. We’re still young. I just want them to play to their potential.”

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