Coming off a Week 2 lashing by Shepard that was one of the most lopsided losses during his tenure as Richards head coach, Tony Sheehan was interested to see how his Bulldogs would respond.
Consider him pleased. For now.
Richards scored 36 first-half points and rode a dominant defensive effort to a 42-0 victory over crosstown rival Oak Lawn on April 1.
Bulldogs sophomore Donnie Burton accounted for four first-half touchdowns — two rushing, one receiving and one passing. Burton finished with seven rushes for 184 yards and completed 6 of 11 passes for 61 yards.
Nolan Gimza had six carries for 40 yards and a score, and junior Alex Rico caught a 19-yard touchdown pass for Richards.
Sheehan didn’t want his team to forget the 42-8 pounding by Shepard the week prior. He wanted his players to learn from it and grow.
“Shepard, you’ve got to give them credit, they took it to us,” he said. “Sometimes you need that, and I think we kind of needed that, to be honest. We had some guys who maybe thought they didn’t need to do the little things, and I think that was kind of a wake-up call that those little things [coaches] are harping on all the time we need to do.
“Everybody gets punched in the mouth, but do you lay down or do you get up and get a little ticked off and do some things differently? I think that’s what we did, and I hope we continue to grow and see where that takes us.”
The loss to Shepard ended Richards’ 20-game South Suburban Red winning streak and was the first to a Red foe since 2016. It was their most lopsided regular-season loss since a 33-0 setback to Red rival Evergreen Park in 2011.
These Bulldogs do not have the makeup of a typical Sheehan-coached team, in terms of varsity game experience. Richards is starting 10 underclassmen — many of them sophomores — on offense and another nine on defense, with several more getting significant playing time. The lack of a typical offseason because of the COVID pandemic presented challenges to all football programs, but particularly impacted those with inexperienced rosters or that lost the bulk of their better players to graduation.
Richards qualifies in both categories. The Bulldogs have four players who saw meaningful time on the field in 2019.
“So we are extremely young, and we didn’t have those months of June and July,” Sheehan said. ‘”That’s when you get some kids to grow up a little bit and we didn’t have that, so we’re trying during the process to get them to grow up.
“But it was good to see them bounce back. The defense played really well. We went back to the basics and kept it simple, and I think that helped our kids a lot.”
Junior defensive back Travis Garmon scored on a pick-six, and Jordan Tooles, Omotayo Idowu, LaDarius Kelley and Jordan Cardwell also had strong games. The latter two are edge-rushers for a defense that consistently put Oak Lawn sophomore quarterback Daniel Lisnic under duress.
The game was slow going for most of the first quarter as both offenses struggled to establish any rhythm. The Spartans had the first prime chance to put points on the board after a 31-yard pass play gave them a first-and-10 from the Richards 14. That opportunity was squandered on the following play when the Bulldogs recovered a fumble.
Three plays later, with the Bulldogs facing a third-and-15 from their own 7 yard line, Burton took the snap out of the shotgun, beat the Oak Lawn defenders to the right edge and raced 93 yards for a touchdown.
The ensuing two-point attempt failed, but the play seemed to untrack the Bulldogs. They held a 6-0 lead after one quarter, then poured it on with 30 more points before halftime.
“We just put it in the playmaker’s hands and see what he can do, and he took off and went 93,” Sheehan said. “It was one of those things where I think it was a big exhale for everyone, and we settled down and got to doing what we do and just start playing some football.”
Burton caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from James Burford Jr. to conclude Richards’ next drive. He later tossed a 19-yard scoring pass to Rico and closed the half with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Burton, a transfer from Eisenhower, will likely see heavy time under center against his former mates in a Week 4 SSC Red matchup. Burford Jr. will not play because of an injury, and Sheehan has been impressed with how senior Nolan Gimza — who can also play quarterback — has been playing at wide receiver.
“We always wanted to have a (quarterback) package for him,” Sheehan said of Burton. “He can throw the ball. He’s still raw with that, but obviously he’s very dynamic with the ball in his hands. We’ll keep doing different things with him and adjust as defenses start to account for him.”