High school football: Earnest Rice accounts for 4 TDs to lead North Lawndale to comeback win against Kennedy

North Lawndale’s offense didn’t take the field until nearly halfway through the second quarter on Thursday against Kennedy. But the Phoenix spent the week dealing with an issue much more serious than a 14-point first-half deficit.

“Sometimes in Chicago there is a lot going on,” North Lawndale coach Samuel Williford said. “We lost one of our best players this week over a threat on social media. He had to transfer because someone wanted to bully him. We lost him to a threat. He transferred away and the whole team cried. That played a part today. He was our emotional leader. It hit everyone hard.”

Phoenix quarterback Earnest Rice, a junior, stepped up to lead his team on the field and emotionally. North Lawndale came from behind to knock off the Crusaders 28-20 at Lane Stadium.

“We had to make a lot of adjustments,” Rice said. “But I’ve been the starting quarterback for three years and I know how to talk to the team and help them out. And Charles comes in very handy.”

Charles Jackson Jr. and Rice connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter that put the Phoenix (4-2, 3-1 Red-West) ahead for good.

“[Rice] is an amazing kid,” Williford said. “He’s one of the best athletes I’ve coached and I kind of let him run the flow. He knows the offense inside and out and it is working.”

Rice was 2-for-6 passing for 66 yards. Both of the completions were to Jackson, who was also a standout on defense for North Lawndale. Rice had eight carries for 85 yards and three touchdowns.

Kennedy led 14-0 in the second quarter. The Crusaders gobbled up the entire first quarter on the opening drive of the game, capping it off with a one-yard touchdown run by Wesley Haggard with 11:09 to play in the second quarter.

Then Kennedy recovered the ensuing kickoff. Haggard scored on a three-yard run to finish off that drive. North Lawndale’s offense didn’t take the field until 8:32 remained in the first half.

“I just tried to be a captain and keep my head up during that first quarter,” Jackson said. “We turned it around in the second half and got the win.”

Marquise James was the other major threat on offense for the Phoenix. He had 12 carries for 62 yards.

North Lawndale was 6-4 last season and qualified for the Class 2A state playoffs. The Phoenix are on track for another playoff appearance.

“We are still learning,” Williford said. “This isn’t what we usually do, but that’s football. We had to overcome some adversity.”

Haggard finished with 28 carries for 91 yards and three touchdowns for Kennedy (2-4, 0-4).

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