Tough to the end: Peoria High goes down swinging in IHSA playoff loss to Morgan Park
PEORIA — Eddie Clark carried the load, then afterward shouldered some of the burden after Peoria High lost an IHSA Class 5A first-round playoff game, 50-42, to Chicago Morgan Park on Saturday at Peoria Stadium.
Clark carried 51 times for 251 yards and two touchdowns, caught two passes for 31 yards and another touchdown, and dealt with a bittersweet outing after the terrific senior fumbled three times in his final high school performance.
Two of those fumbles were lost, and the Lions also turned it over on two interceptions and a fumbled kickoff return.
"(Morgan Park) wore me down, but my team put the ball in my hands and trusted me," Clark said. "I take care of my teammates and I know this is a tough loss for us today.
"This is not how any of us wanted it to end. For me, I have to get in the weight room and get stronger, learn from today, because I want to play football in college."
Peoria High coach Tim Thornton embraced Clark and other players on the field in the aftermath.
"Eddie is a tough-ass kid for sure," Thornton said. "He's been a good leader to the end.
"We have quite a few players like Eddie who want to play college football, and we're going to focus now on doing everything we can to prepare them and help them get an opportunity.
"Bottom line, we put the ball on the ground too many times today. But I told these guys how much I love them, and they know I mean it."
Clark ran in from the 3 and added a two-point conversion run to rally Peoria High into a 34-30 lead with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
The Lions' opening possession of the fourth quarter ended on a pick at 10:59. Five plays later Morgan Park senior quarterback Aaron Warren rambled 39 yards to the end zone for a 36-34 lead with 8:55 left.
Clark fumbled two plays later, but the Lions defense held and took over possession at its own 18. That drive ended when Clark fumbled on his 34 after a 12-yard gain.
Morgan Park's Warren hit Chris Durr on a 38-yard pass, then finished off the drive with a keeper from the 2 for a 44-34 lead with 3:59 left in the game.
Lions returner Gary Rutherford fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and on the next play Warren blasted off for a 46-yard TD run and 50-34 lead.
The Lions weren't done, though, as quarterback Tino Gist hit NeSha Robertson for a 54-yard scoring strike at 2:56. Clark ran in a two-point conversion and it was a one-score game at 50-42.
Morgan Park, though, ran out the clock, with the help of a defensive holding penalty that seemed marginal.
The Mustangs (7-3) got five rushing touchdowns from quarterback Warren, who ran 20 times for 154 yards.
"We thought we could score what we needed," said Warren, posing for a picture with teammates at midfield, holding up decals that read 'CFK'. "It means Certified Football Killers, it's a slogan our team has this year. We all bought into it. We are battle-tested."
They were certified Lion killers on Saturday. Morgan Park running back Tysean Griffin -- who has multiple offers from SEC teams -- ran 22 times for 88 yards and a TD.
"We did a great job of containing Griffin," said Thornton, whose Peoria High team finished 7-3. "We believe we would have scored if we got the ball back at the end. We weren't done."
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.