Evergreen Park's Jacquet McClendon rounds the corner on North Chicago's Brandon Paige during the IHSA Class 4A first round game North Chicago on Saturday, October 27, 2012 . | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 30, 2012 6:20AM
Surely at some point this season, Dan Hartman used the expression “pick-6” while talking to his players.
But no way was the Evergreen Park football coach talking about THIS kind of pick-6 — six interceptions in a game — when he was preaching at practice.
Yet, on Saturday, in Round 1 of the Class 4A playoffs, Hartman’s Mustangs put into practice what their coach preached, picking off six passes, forcing eight turnovers overall, and adding a safety in a 23-7 thumping of host North Chicago that moved the winners into the Round of 16 and a matchup at Richmond.
North Chicago finished 7-3, but had its season completely unravel in the final two weeks, starting with a 62-0 beatdown against Lakes in Week 9 and continuing with Saturday’s embarrassing showing.
“The defense played great today. They’ve played well all season but they really stood out today,” said Hartman. “They fought hard when the offense couldn’t get the chains moving.
“Kudos to them. They bailed us out today.”
The game was scoreless until the final 24 seconds of the first half. That’s when Jack Lyon picked off a JaVairius Amos-Mays and took it 69 yards to the house for a 7-0 halftime lead.
“For us to get a pick-6, that changed the momentum of the game,” said Hartman. “We were really kind of down at that point because we weren’t able to move the ball, so that pick-6 really gave us some energy going into the second half.”
As it turned out, neither Amos-Mays nor Evergreen Park’s defense were done.
On the opening possession of the third quarter, Amos-Mays threw to Evergreen Park’s DaQuad Gatewood, and the linebacker returned it 34 yards for a 14-0 lead.
North Chicago then fumbled the ball away in the Red Zone, but finally got to within 14-7 when Amos-Mays (11-of-22 passing, 111 yards, 1 TD, 6 picks) hit Jamero Shelton from 28 yards out.
Then, midway through the fourth quarter, the Warhawks got the ballinside its 10, thanks to a good Mustang punt coupled with a North Chicago personal-foul penalty. On fourth down down, North Chicago’s center airmailed the snap out of the end zone and the competitive phase of the game was over.
Evergreen Park tacked on an offensive score — a seven-yard TD pass from Brandon White (5-of-13, 92 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 picks) to Mike Reuter. He also ran 22 times for 23 yards.
“We talk about details all the time. The first four weeks (all wins), we were dialed in on the details,” said losing coach Glen Kozlowski. “We got sloppy in Week 5 and started turning the ball over and were never able to correct.
“That’s something we’ll have to get better at.”
This was North Chicago’s first playoff appearance since 2006. Evergreen Park lost in the quarterfinals of last year’s playoffs.
“The seniors helped set a mark for everybody to chase, and the juniors are going to have to try and improve on it,” said Kozlowski. “Right now, we have 18 starters returning next year, but that doesn’t mean anything more than we have a chance to do something.
“We have to get in the weight room and you have to do all the other things.”
On the winning side, Hartman saw his team get just 124 yards in 48 minutes of play.
“Hats off to their defense,” Hartman said. “That’s one of the best defenses we’ve played all year, and that’s saying something. They were getting after it. They attacked the ball and really got after our QB.”