It wouldn't seem as if it could get much better for a Grayslake North football team that achieved its best start and its best winning streak in program history after rolling up 535 yards of offense in Friday night's 54-22 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division victory at Hampshire.
The scary part for the Knights (4-1, 2-0) is they know they can get better after taking advantage of 6 turnovers and moving into a tie for the division lead with Crystal Lake Central with their fourth straight victory. The good part is they also know they must get better in order to reach the playoffs for the first time in the program's seven-year history.
"I don't think the goal was to go 4-1, the goal was to win at least six games and now we're hoping to win at least eight games," said senior quarterback A.J. Fish after he accounted for 331 total yards and 5 touchdowns as the Knights surpassed the 50-point barrier for the third time this season. "Our goal is to make the playoffs and win the conference."
The Knights showed they have the explosiveness to do it as it took them just a total of 10 minutes and 52 seconds of possession time on their eight trips to the end zone. Fish's escape of a sack and 67-yard jaunt across the field put the Knights ahead to stay at 7-6 in the first quarter.
Fish had 18 carries for 222 yards with 4- and 6-yard scoring runs to increase his totals to 887 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has 1,009 yards passing after going 11-for-24 for 109 yards with a 1-yard toss to Brad Baker and a leaping 41-yard, fourth-down grab by Jesse Davis which made it 33-14 with 14.2 seconds left in the first half.
"Fish is a special player and we've seen him do the same thing on tape to team after team after team," said Hampshire coach Dan Cavanaugh after his team committed 5 first-half turnovers. "He's a great player and he's got a good team to go around him.
"You can't make mistakes offensively and give the ball back to that offense like we did."
Especially since junior Titus Booker also rushed for 154 yards on 14 carries with with touchdowns of 19 and 10 yards behind Brandon Bock, Ian Pearce, Michael Suarez, Eric York and Geoff Gardner.
"It's chemistry," Gardner said of the line's success. "We're working hard in practice and doing our jobs." But the Knights also gave away the ball twice and committed 10 penalties.
"It's like our coach (Steve Wood) said, we haven't played to our full potential yet," said Gardner, a three-year starter and two-way lineman. "We're still putting up over 40 points a game and letting up only 18, so when we play to our full potential great things are going to come."
Hampshire (2-3, 1-1) came right out after Tim Jansen's interception on the first play of the game as quarterback Kyle Anderson (15 carries, 55 yards) capped a 63-yard drive in 5:05 with a 3-yard touchdown run. Jansen's 58-yard run set up a 7-yard score and 2-point conversion run by Phil LaPointe (14 carries, 62 yards) which cut the deficit to 20-14 with 9:02 left in the half.
But interceptions by Vincent Smith and David Collins and forced fumbles by York and Spencer Davis helped the Knights pull away to a 40-14 lead just 1:19 after intermission. Hampshire responded with a 16-play, 73-yard drive which took 7:49 as LaPointe scored from 3 yards and Anderson hit Pat Kuefner with a conversion pass.
Grayslake North junior reserve Zach Juron finished the scoring with a 13-yard run with 2:31 to play.
"We have to find ways to play better defensively and we've shown signs," Wood said after Hampshire rushed for 257 of its 299 total yards. "We knew they'd be physical because that's Hampshire football and Dan gets everything out of his kids.
"We've got a couple of teams coming up that are going to try and shove it down our throats so we'd better come with a little more intensity if we want to win the conference."