Rushing and defense shine again as football beats Taft 16-6

Rivalry win over Eagles on the roads gives Lane a 4-0 start


Alex Burstein

Lane’s Jacobi Thurmond lines up in front of a Taft receiver during Lane’s 16-6 week 4 victory.

By Alex Burstein, Editor-In-Chief

With just minutes left in the 2021 city playoffs, then-junior wide receiver Casey Joyce celebrated in the end zone at Taft’s stadium after scoring a touchdown and cutting Lane’s deficit to Taft to five. 

But the celebration didn’t last long, as the Eagles punched in another touchdown and took the win, dashing any hope of a city title for Lane.

It took 314 days for Joyce, now playing as a senior running back for Lane, to finally get his revenge. With five carries on Lane’s final drive of the day on Friday, Joyce helped Lane run the clock all the way down to 2:41. Four Taft incompletions and three Lane kneels later, Joyce and the Champions (4-0, 1-0 Chicago Public – Red North) knocked off Taft (0-4, 0-1) 16-6 in their conference opener.

“I always like to dedicate these games to the seniors that I played with last year,” Joyce said after the win. “They never got to experience this, and to do this on [Taft’s] home turf during their homecoming, it’s a great feeling.”

With the win, Lane improved to 4-0, their best start since at least 2003, as the Champions eye their first state playoff berth since 2013.

The win marked Head Coach Dedrick Dewalt’s first win against Lane’s northwest side rivals after three tries.

“This one was personal, man, you know the last three times we played them, they beat us. …  The ball bounced in our favor today,” Dewalt said. “We got the win and so this is good for those seniors that have been getting beat up by Taft the last four years so I’m happy for them.”

It was a senior-led effort for Lane Tech’s offense. Of Lane’s four players who finished with positive yards from scrimmage, three of them (Joyce, Finn Merrill and Yiannis Katsogridakis) are in their final year with the program.

Lane’s offense has consisted of basically one thing all year long — rushing — and that didn’t change for the Friday night matchup. Lane, who scored 14 points in the first 14 minutes of gameplay to establish a lead, had just one pass completion all game compared to 213 yards on the ground.

On Lane’s first drive of the game, Merrill (78 yards from scrimmage) coughed up the ball on a rush from the Taft 18-yard line. But there to pick it up was junior offensive linemen Julian Hutchinson, who took the ball 15 yards to the end zone. An extra point later and Lane had an early seven-point lead with 2:41 to go in the first.

Just three minutes later, on the second play of Lane’s next drive, Joyce took the ball 55 yards after two change of direction pitches at the line of scrimmage, first from Quarterback Mark Seward and then from Merrill, to give the Champions a 13-0 lead.

“It gave us confidence. Playing this team, we didn’t have the best of confidence against them because like I said, they’ve been kind of beating up on us the last couple years,” Dewalt said. “But those couple of touchdowns early gave us confidence, and my defense played lights out, and we were able to shut them down.”

Following those two touchdowns it was Lane’s time to shine on the defensive end. Other than a 42-yard field goal from Lane senior kicker Mugdim Kreho with 4.6 seconds left in the half, the Champions’ offense would stay quiet for the rest of the night.

Lane’s defensive line continued a strong start to the season, keeping pressure on Taft’s senior quarterback Barah Abad, who had a less productive night than his two games against Lane last year.

The Champions were also able to find a quick response to Taft freshman running back Diesel McFadden, the son of former NFL running back Darren McFadden. The freshman, who was making his debut for Taft, had 43 rushing yards through the first three Taft drives, but Lane limited him to just two yards the rest of the night.

Shout out to the defense,” Joyce said. “Shout out to the big dogs up front, man. Shout out to our linebackers — we play some lockdown defense. And we’ve got to build on that for next week.”

Taft would get one score back with a one-yard rushing touchdown by Abad with 7:44 left in the fourth quarter to cut the score to 16-6. They nearly got within four points four plays later after a Lane fumble and a 30-yard passing touchdown, but the score was called back for an illegal forward pass, and Taft would turn the ball back to Lane three plays later. From there, the Champions started burning the clock for the victory. 

The win now puts Lane just two wins away from clinching a state playoff berth with five games to go in the regular season. 

Lane was back to work at 9 a.m. the morning after their win for film session, as they look to get a win against their other big rival, Whitney Young, Sept. 24 at Winnemac Stadium. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. this Saturday.

“We can’t be so happy with this win against Taft,” Dewalt said. “Like I just told my guys when we just huddled up at the end of the game, this is a great win, but we still got five more games to play. So we can celebrate this tonight. But tomorrow we have to start focusing on Whitney Young.”