Stewart's big plays push Oak Park past F.H. Harrison
Oak Park — Five-star two-way junior lineman Justin Rogers said Phillip Stewart was going to make a name for himself all season following Oak Park's season-opening win over Utica Eisenhower.
Stewart made sure he would continue to back up Rogers’ statement Friday night by playing a big role in Oak Park’s 23-15 victory over No. 12 Farmington Hills Harrison in an Oakland Activities Association White Division showdown.
With No. 3 Oak Park (3-0, 2-0) holding a 9-7 lead early in the third quarter, Stewart took the handoff from Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis at the Oak Park 35, was hemmed in near the left side, cut back and sprinted up the middle with Northwestern-bound cornerback Rod Heard giving chase but unable to bring him down.
"I was trying to get to the next level. It wasn't open so I had to use my IQ, had to cut back and it was six (points)," said Stewart, who rushed for 149 yards on 18 carries.
Stewart’s 65-yard touchdown run opened up a 16-7 lead and Oak Park pushed the margin to 23-7 cushion with 11:39 remaining when it took advantage of a short field following a short punt.
And, again, it was Stewart that put the points on the board, grabbing a screen pass from Mathis on a fourth-and-goal at the 16 and running it into the end zone.
“I saw that the defense was in man coverage so I knew when we ran the post it would clear out that (right) side of the field," Mathis said. "So as soon as I watched him break out I threw it to him (Stewart) and I knew it would be wide open because the post took everybody else to the left.”
Harrison (2-1, 1-1) made things interesting when Heard returned the kickoff 85 yards for a score, then made it a one-score game at 23-15 when Max Martin found Sylvon Brown on a two-point conversion.
Harrison had one more crack in the final seconds, reaching the Oak Park 48 when Mathis intercepted a Martin deep ball near the end zone with cornerback Enzo Jennings playing great defense on the receiver.
Oak Park’s defense forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, and limited Harrison to 63 total yards during the second half.
“They are pretty tough on defense, a pretty good team needless to say,” Harrison coach John Herrington said. “We missed a couple of passes early on and after that we never seemed to come back and get it.”
Harrison took advantage of a fumbled punt at Oak Park’s 26 and grabbed a 7-0 lead on Heard’s 1-yard touchdown run with just over seven minutes left in the opening quarter.
Harrison’s lead could have been more, but Martin failed to connect with Ben Williams after he got behind Oak Park’s secondary on one series and Heard fumbled at the Oak Park 38 early in the second quarter.
Harrison’s defense had not allowed a point in the first two games — 41-0 shutouts over North Farmington and Troy Athens — and gave up just one yard in the opening quarter against Oak Park.
However, Oak Park got on the board when the snap sailed over the head of Harrison punter David Hiser, who scooped the ball up and ran out of the end zone for a safety that cut Harrison’s lead to 7-2 with 4:09 left in the half.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, Stewart returned the kick 27 yards to the Harrison 48 to give Mathis a short field to work with. Mathis threw a perfect deep ball for a 46-yard touchdown pass to Michael Bowens on third down to give Oak Park a 9-7 lead with 3:03 left.
Oak Park had two more chances to add on to the lead, but came up empty both times. And it wasn’t Mathis’ fault either.
After Oak Park’s defense forced a three-and-out, Oak Park had the ball at its own 44 and Mathis threw a pair of passes that were defended well by Delwuan Gaston and Xavier Goldsmith.
Still, Mathis had another crack and went deep down the right sideline, but the perfectly thrown ball was dropped near the end zone.
Oak Park’s defense came up with a turnover when Jalen Fielder intercepted a Martin pass at the Harrison 37 with 13.7 seconds left.
Mathis found Savontae Tyler for 30 yards to the 12 and a pass interference gave Oak Park the ball at the Harrison 6 with one play left, but Mathis failed to connect with Bowens on a quick slant pass in the end zone.
Mathis finished 4-for-14 for 93 yards and two touchdown passes, but didn’t turn the ball over and had a handful of passes dropped by his receivers.
Martin was also 4-for-14 for 41 yards, but had three interceptions.
Heard rushed for 69 yards on 18 carries but was held to eight yards on three carries during the second half.