Whether he’s utilized as a kick returner, wide receiver, quarterback or defensive back, Matthew Harris is repeatedly described by Lyons Township football coach Kurt Weinberg as a “special football player.”
The speedy Harris starred in his wideout role with three touchdown catches to power LT past host Leyden 30-14 on Friday. The West Suburban Conference crossover win assured the Lions (5-4) a spot in the Class 8A playoffs where LT visits Bartlett in opening round action this weekend.
The Lions’ postseason chances appeared briefly in jeopardy as Leyden took a 7-0 lead after the first quarter. Harris quickly changed the LT outlook when he scored three touchdowns within a breathtaking two-minute span. Harris caught touchdown passes of 79 yards from Zach Mahoney and 35 yards from Connor Onion (2-for-6, 152 yards) with both scores occurring with 1:05 left until halftime.
“[Harris’] scoring plays at the end of the first half gave us a spark on both sides of the ball,” Weinberg said. “Matthew is a special football player. Give Leyden some credit, they had a good game plan, but I thought we played much better in the second half.”
After the intermission, Harris struck again with an 81-yard kickoff return, setting up his nine-yard scoring reception on a toss from Mahoney (3-for-7, 95 yards, 2 TDs) in the third quarter. The spectacular scoring flurry triggered 30 unanswered points from LT, which culminated with Mahoney’s 20-yard run with 1:44 left in the third quarter and Jake Elliot’s 36-yard field goal midway through the fourth.
LT finished with 261 yards of total offense, led by Harris’ big plays and running back Jamie Jones (11 carries, 62 yards).
The Eagles scored on Joey DiFronzo’s one-yard run with 44 seconds left in the game, but by then LT was already thinking ahead to its return trip to the postseason.
With the exception of a surprisingly lopsided 41-14 loss to Proviso West, the Lions enter the playoffs with three wins in their last four games, sparked by dramatic game-winning field goals as time expired from Elliot against both Oak Park and York.
Looking ahead to the playoffs, the quarterback tandem of Onion and Mahoney, along with skill position threats like Harris, Jones and Jamari Burks, will need to lead LT offensively, while Will Konstant, Mike Thomas, Robert Mitchell, Corey Jefco and Billy Cramsie must anchor the defense. As a bonus, the Lions have the clutch-kicking Elliot to call upon when needed.
Seeded 13th in the Class 8A playoffs, LT will visit fourth-seed Bartlett (7-2) this weekend (time TBD). The Hawks feature standout quarterback A.J. Bilyeu and wide receiver/returner James Butler.
“This is the best time of the season,” Weinberg said. “You get to play some high quality teams from other conferences and geographic areas. It’s intense and a lot of fun. We’re excited about this opportunity, and it starts by getting ready for Bartlett.”