Playing on the offensive line, senior Demonta Byrd watched from the sidelines as the Morgan Park High School (MPHS) defense posted three impressive performances through the early weeks of the season.
However, he couldn’t help but wish he could line up on defense, too.
Byrd got his shot.
Starting on the defensive line for the first time, Byrd spearheaded the Mustangs defense in a convincing 36-6 victory on Oct. 3 over rival Hubbard at Gately Stadium in a Chicago Public League crossover game.
“This was my first game playing defense. I wanted to show the coaches that I’m a defensive player,” Byrd said. “We wanted to show that we can be a dominant defense. We set the tone all game with all the stops we had.”
MPHS improved to 3-2.
The Mustangs limited Hubbard to just 27 passing yards and 53 rushing yards on 21 carries.
The impressive effort came just four days after MPHS lost to state power Phillips in a rain-delayed game. For senior linebacker Noah Malone, the Mustangs needed to turn things around and quickly, especially at Hubbard’s Homecoming game.
“It was a vengeance game. We didn’t have a good game at all against Phillips,” Malone said. “Anything that happens in the past, we keep going forward. We’re not scared of anyone. We always come out trying to set the tone and establish that we’ll punch you in the mouth early.”
MPHS set the tone and then some on Hubbard’s first offensive play with junior Erick Howard recovering a fumble at the Greyhounds’ 19-yard line.
Three plays later, senior Ar’juan Bester punched in an 8-yard TD. Napoleon Williams ran in the 2-point conversion as MPHS went up just 86 seconds into the game.
Byrd, a Beverly resident and Sutherland Elementary School graduate, said he loved the fiery effort.
“We had to come in on their homecoming and show who we are and what we’re about,” Byrd said. “We’ve had 3 tough losses. We want to make the playoffs, so this win was very important.”
MPHS did not qualify for the state playoffs in 2018, snapping a streak of 18 straight state playoff berths.
Byrd consistently broke through the Hubbard offensive line, piling up 3 tackles for loss in the first half as MPHS went up 22-6.
Malone added a sack and a pass break-up.
Shontrail Key (TFL) and Semaj Brown (interception) also delivered key plays defensively for the Mustangs.
With the defense slowing Hubbard down, Bester and junior QB Cam Fulton did the rest. Bester finished with 81 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, adding a 1-yard score late in the first half.
The senior was quick to credit his offensive line of Maquayle Chamberlain, Devin King, Derrick Crump, Malik Boxley and Timothy Johnson.
“My line was blocking. As long as they block, I’ll try and hit the hole hard every time,” Bester said. “With our offense, it’s the little things that have held us back, but it’s starting to come together as one. We’ve got to then work on making the big plays. We had to get the ground game going.”
Fulton finished 10 for 21 in passing for 156 yards, a TD and an interception, and he also ran for 54 yards. The junior rushed for a 2-point conversion.
Napoleon Williams (4-yard rushing TD), Deshun Britten (3-yard receiving TD) and Dontrell Williams (5-yard rushing TD) also scored for MPHS.
With games remaining against Raby, Lane and Westinghouse, the Mustangs need two more wins to be eligible for the state playoffs.
“We know what we have to do every week,” Malone said. “We come out and game plan everything like we’re supposed to. Then, it’s all about executing. When we put it all together, it’s a beautiful thing.”