There was a beautiful pink sunset spreading across the Fox Lake horizon at the beginning of Friday's nonconference football tilt between visiting Grayslake Central and Grant.
It wasn't the only pretty thing in the sky, though.
Grant, known for its staunch commitment to the run, suddenly looked like a passing team. A couple of high-spiraling, third-quarter bombs from quarterback Kyle Whitman to Keion Miller, including a 43-yard touchdown, put the Bulldogs in firm control.
Having stretched out the Grayslake Central defense with the pass, Grant then turned to its relentless running game to finish off a dominating 31-14 victory.
"Usually, it's obvious what we're going to do. I mean, we're Grant, we're going to run the ball," said Whitman, a former running back who is, not surprisingly, still running the ball quite often even out of the quarterback spot. "But sometimes, it's just not clicking and that was what happened early on for us. So we decided to open it up with some passes.
"We needed to because they were packing the box. They were bringing nine or 10 guys up at a time. Teams don't really know that we've got an arm and great receivers, like Keion. But we've been practicing passing and that was our game plan. Open it up a little and then start running when they spread out."
Up 10-7 at halftime on a 21-yard run by Whitman and a safety on Billy Sullivan's tackle of a Grayslake Central runner in the end zone, Grant took to the air early in the third quarter. The Bulldogs' third play from scrimmage was the 43-yard touchdown pass to Miller.
"It feels great (to get a pass called)," said Miller, who caught a total of 4 passes for 103 yards. "We've been working all summer. We'd come out here on weekends and throw all the time. In practices we're always throwing. We have a really good chemistry."
Whitman, who finished with 6 completions for 115 yards, then started working on his connection with fullback Jonathan Wells in the option offense.
Over the next five minutes, Grant scored back-to-back rushing touchdowns, on drives that included almost nothing but runs.
Wells (31 rushes for 117 yards) scored on a 2-yard run shortly after the Bulldogs recovered a Grayslake Central fumble. Then Whiteman (17 rushes, 111 yards) ran in a touchdown from 13 yards out to cap a 7-play drive. That ballooned Grant's lead to 31-7 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
"Of course, there are always things you can work on," Grant coach Kurt Rous said. "But overall, I was really pleased with our effort and what we were able to do on offense."
Grayslake Central, meanwhile, wasn't able to do much on offense.
The Rams managed a score in the fourth quarter when quarterback Alex Lennartz hit Wilson Perez with a 44-yard touchdown pass to account for the final margin. But other than that, their offense was pretty quiet.
The only other score for Grayslake Central came on a 54-yard fumble return by Connor Daly in the second quarter. At halftime, the Rams had just 6 yards of offense and not a single first down. They finished with 133 total yards and just 4 first downs.
"Our defense was lights out," Rous said. "They were flying around making plays. Not too bad for 10 new starters."
New Grayslake Central coach Ben Ault wasn't about to dismiss Grant's defense as being too green.
"Actually, we knew they would be really good," Ault said. "I figure they're one of the better defensive teams we'll see all year long. They're good scheme-wise, they have athletes at every position. They've got good size. A lot of those kids are very talented and when you run up against that, especially when you're running a new offense and your kids are still learning, it makes it a tough up-hill climb."