Bears

Mooring puts the spin on Hillcrest

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Mooring puts the spin on Hillcrest

It all began on June 4 when Hillcrest senior basketball star Ryan Royall, the team's only all-conference returnee, was shot and killed during a disturbance following a birthday party in south suburban Lynwood.

"Our kids are playing the season for him," coach Don Houston said. "He would have been a starter, one of our best players. It is a credit to these kids that they are playing as well as they are. I'm not surprised. These kids are tough players."

Houston and his Hawks, who are 15-4 after beating Richards and Bremen last week but losing 59-53 to Farragut on Sunday, will experience another emotional moment on Tuesday when they play at Crete-Monee.

Crete-Monee's first-year coach is Tom Cappel, who won 504 games in 23 years at Hillcrest. Houston was Cappel's assistant for seven years, then succeeded his mentor five years ago. "There is a lot of love and respect for each other," Houston said.

Houston, 40, has picked up where Cappel left off. In fact, he has accomplished at least one thing that Cappel was unable to do, winning a state championship in 2010, in only his third season. Cappel reached the state quarterfinals twice but advanced no farther.

"Talent-wise, this team is as good as the state champion," Houston said. "Potentially, we could go pretty far (in the state tournament). This team has more depth and more athleticism. If they can buy into playing team basketball, they could be as good if not better.

"They have to realize the structure of the game, especially at the end. They have to execute to pull out close games at the end. They just like to play but there is more to it than that. They like to get up and down because of their athleticism. But it doesn't win all the games, especially the close ones. I keep preaching it a lot. I show them the value of execution."

Hillcrest returns some experienced hands from a 21-8 squad that lost to Morgan Park in last year's sectional semifinal. The leaders are 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring (18 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jalen Loving (14 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jayone Troutman (13 ppg, 9 rpg), 6-foot-2 senior Virgil Fleming (8 ppg) and 5-foot-8 junior point guard Kyle Oden (8 ppg, 6 assists).

Houston describes Mooring as one of the best players in the class of 2013. "People don't know about him like they should. They will find out about him soon. He is getting some looks (from college recruiters), He is one of the best scorers around," the coach said.

"I am very underrated," Mooring said. "I want to play Division I in college. I know how good I am. Hopefully, people will realize it one day. I've always been a good player but haven't gotten the recognition I should have. I feel I should have been on the varsity last year but should have worked a lot harder to get there. I really improved my game over the summer."

His trademark is a spin move with a step back jump shot. "I drive left, spin back right, step back and shoot over the defender with my right hand. I have worked on it a lot. I've gotten it good this year. I started to notice that nobody could stop it," he said.

A pair of 6-foot-2 seniors, Brent Buchanan (8 ppg) and Chris Copeland (5 ppg), provide spark off the bench on offense and defense.

"These next few games will tell us if we have matured from the losses (to highly rated Bloom, Simeon and Rockford Auburn) that we suffered early in the season," Houston said. "If they can execute in the clutch and at the end of games, they will show they are ready to go to Peoria."

Mooring isn't surprised by the team's success. Although four returned from last year's squad, none of them started. But they have been together since sixth grade and were unbeaten as freshmen and sophomores. The tragic death of their teammate, Royall, has provided motivation and inspiration.

"He was the leader of the team," Mooring said. "When I heard about it, it didn't see real. We had just played together the day before. When I woke up and heard he was gone, it was a real shock. We helped each other to get through that time. It was motivation. We're doing this for him.

"We know he would be working just as hard as we would. He wasn't perfect at everything but he did all the right things. What we don't do, he did...get tip-ins, dive on the floor for loose balls, get offensive rebounds. He was a leader and great defender. All he talked about was winning state. Now we're all coming together."

Despite the losses, Houston felt his team learned some positive lessons that will benefit them as they prepare for the state tournament.

For example, the Hawks lost to top-ranked Simeon by 15 but got a chance to experience playing in a highly competitive environment. Against Bloom and Rockford Auburn (they led by 13 with five minutes left in the third quarter), they learned they have to execute at the end.

Mooring was a freshman when Hillcrest won the 2010 state championship. He played on the sophomore squad during the preliminary games and stuck around to observe the varsity. He knows what it takes to be a state champion.

"That team had a lot of heart," he said. "They never gave up. They played together, like we do. We aren't as athletic but I believe we can be a better team. We're a lot quicker than the 2010 team. It comes down to us doing it. Our defense gives us a lot of confidence against every team we play. As long as we move on defense, we can compete with anybody."

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a game full of pivotal moments, one seemed to irk the Bears in particular following Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Driving on the Dolphins three-yard line, the Bears lined up in a T formation with Jordan Howard, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen lined up left to right in the backfield behind Mitch Trubisky, who was under center. Burton motioned out of the backfield and to the right, and ran his route into linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Trubisky threw a short pass to a wide open Cohen for a touchdown, with Alonso late getting to the running back after being hit by Burton. But that score was taken off the board for offensive pass interference, with officials ruling what Burton did amounted to an illegal pick play.

“Trey did everything I asked him to do,” Matt Nagy said, sharply.

On the next play, Trubisky forced a pass into double coverage in the end zone, which was easily picked off by Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald. Miami turned that interception into eight points on Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown and an ensuing two-point conversion.

The way Burton understood the rule was that offensive pass interference was only assessed on a pick play if he intentionally ran into a defender without running a true route. That’s what Burton felt he did; the officiating crew disagreed.

“I thought I ran a route and the guy ran into me,” Burton said. “I thought they changed the rule this year or last year — if you run the route, it doesn’t matter if you pick the guy or not, you’re good. Obviously they called it.”

A Rough Return

The conversations surrounding the Bears Sunday into Monday would be awfully different had a number of things happened — Trubisky doesn’t throw that interception, the Bears’ defense gets a stop, Tarik Cohen doesn’t fumble near midfield, etc. In that same group: If Cody Parkey hits what would’ve been a game-winning 53-yard field goal in overtime.

Parkey, instead, missed that kick wide right. His career long is 54 yards, which he hit last year while with the Miami Dolphins (and that was a game-winner with about a minute left against the Los Angeles Chargers).

“I had the distance, I just didn’t kick it straight enough, bottom line,” Parkey said. “But you’ve got to move on. I’ve made game winners, I’ve missed game winners. As long as I keep playing, I’m just going to keep trying to kick my best.

“… I control what I can control, and unfortunately I missed a field goal. I’d like to have that one back, but it is what it is and I’m just going to focus on the next game. That’s all I can do.”

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

Their points production in the 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday marked the fourth time in five games under coach Matt Nagy that the Bears have scored 23 or more points. All of the 28 were heaped on the Dolphins by the offense, which churned for 467 yards one game after amassing 483 and 48 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the Bears did in fact lose, and not all of the reasons can be laid at the feet of the defense. Not nearly all of them.

In great position to put the game virtually out of reach for the struggling Dolphins, the Bears offense failed. The yardage total gave the Bears consecutive 400-yard games for the first time since games 14-15 in 2016, and well could have represented a statement that the offense of Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich was indeed hitting a potent stride.

It may be. But a combination of troubling factors gave Sunday’s output a hollow ring.

Against the Dolphins, 149 of the yards came on possessions ending in turnovers, including an interception thrown by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and fumble by running back Jordan Howard both occurring in the red zone with points well within reach.

The offense hurt itself with a handful of pre-snap penalties, and the overarching sense is that the belief in Nagy and the overall offense is growing amid mistakes that clearly rest with players themselves.

“For sure, 100 percent trust in Coach Nagy and what he believes is best for this team,” Trubisky said. “What he believes is what I believe is best for this team. Whatever he calls, we're going to run it to the best of our ability. We put ourselves in a great chance, and I have faith in our guys that next time we get the opportunity we make it.”

Opportunities taken and opportunities missed

For Trubisky, the linchpin of the evolving offense, it was a day of extremes.

His production (316 yards) gave him consecutive 300-yard games for the first time in his 17-game career. His passer rating (122.5) was the seond-highest of his career, behind only the stratospheric 154.6 of the Tampa Bay game. His three TD passes are second only to his six against the Buccaneers. Trubisky’s yardage outputs this season are pointing in a decidedly upward arc: 171 at Green Bay, followed by 200-220-354-316.

But decision-making proved costly at tipping points against the Dolphins. From the Miami 13 with a 21-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, and holding a chance to create potentially decisive breathing room on the scoreboard, Trubisky forced a throw toward tight end Ben Braunecker, who was double-covered in the Miami end zone. The ball was intercepted by safety T.J. McDonald, and the Dolphins went from the touchback to a touchdown and subsequent game-tying two-point conversion.

“I just thought the safety went with the ‘over’ route,” Trubisky said. “He made a good play. I lost him when I was stepping up [in the pocket], and I forced one in the red zone when I shouldn't have… . I forced it and I put my team in a bad position, and I shouldn't have thrown that pass.”

The second-year quarterback started poorly, with an overthrow of a wide-open Anthony Miller on the third play from scrimmage, resulting in a three-and-out and a concerning start for what would be only scoreless Bears first half this season. A failed fourth-and-2 conversion gave Miami the football at its 41 later in the quarter.

Trubisky badly overthrew an open Miller in the second quarter, creating a third-and-long on which the Dolphins broke down his protection for a second sack in the span of just 11 plays. After a 47-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel, Trubisky threw an checkdown pass nowhere near running back Jordan Howard.

Fatigue factor overlooked?

Running back Tarik Cohen totaled 121 yards for the second straight game and the second time in his career. For the second straight week Cohen led or co-led the Bears with seven pass receptions.

But the last of the seven came with a disastrous finish. Cohen was hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso after taking a swing pass and picking up 11 yards, fumbled and had the ball recovered by cornerback Xavien Howard at the Chicago 45. The defense did manage a stop, leading to the overtime, but the result was devastating.

“Personally for me, it’s [frustrating] because I know I took my team out of position to win the game late in the ball game,’ Cohen said. “So personally, that’s frustrating for me… . I feel like I had an opportunity to get ourselves down in scoring position. I let fatigue get the best of me, and I forgot about the fundamentals.”

That Cohen mentioned “fatigue” is perhaps noteworthy. A question was raised to Helfrich last week as to whether there was an optimal or max number of snaps for the diminutive Cohen, who had five carries and was targeted nine times – not including one punt return and plays on which he ran pass routes but was not thrown to in the south Florida heat.

“It was hot,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “It was hot out there.”

Weapons rising

Last offseason and millions in contracts were spent upgrading offensive weaponry. The investments produced in Miami.

Touchdown passes were caught by wide receivers Anthony Miller (drafted) and Allen Robinson (free agent) plus tight end Trey Burton (free agent). Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (free agent) caught the five passes thrown to him for a team-high 110 yards, his second straight 100-yard game after none in his previous four NFL seasons.

Five different players posted plays of 20 yards or longer, including pass plays of 54 and 47 yards by Gabriel and a run of 21 yards and reception of 59 yards by Cohen.

Uncharacteristically for the normally fast-starting Bears offense, the group followed the scoreless first half with 21 points in the third quarter and 343 yards of combined offense in the second half and overtime.

“We came out with more energy and had the attitude that we were going to go down and score the ball,” Trubisky said, “and we played a lot better the second half.”