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All patched up -- and glued -- Grant quarterback Kyle Whitman was back.
And in black.
"Sweet surprise," Whitman said of the new black uniforms with white numerals and piping that coach Kurt Rous unboxed two hours before the Bulldogs' homecoming kickoff against Vernon Hills.
"It was perfect for the homecoming atmosphere, coming in, excited all week, all the silly days and stuff with the teachers," Whitman added. "And then coming out here and finding out we got new uniforms -- this was like Christmas for us, man."
It will have to be a particularly great Christmas for it to top Grant's Saturday. The Bulldogs' stunning blowout, 43-7, over their divisonal rival included the return of Whitman and even junior cornerback Chris Gomoll, who made his first appearance on a sideline since nearly suffering paralysis after he absorbed a hit against Wauconda two weeks ago. Gomoll, wearing a neck brace and his new black No. 81 jersey under his letterman's jacket, watched the game from the end zone with his parents and little brother.
Whitman, who needed 9 staples to close a gash on the top of his head as the result of his helmet flying off against Stevenson the previous week, rushed 16 times for 135 yards and 4 touchdowns.
He had the staples removed Saturday morning.
"They put some medical glue stuff on it," Whitman said. "We threw it on top and it hasn't budged since."
Whitman had practiced all week but without a helmet. It wasn't certain that he would play.
"I told myself, 'If there are going to be shots coming at my head, I got to take care of it, get out of bounds and kind of shy away from hits,' " Whitman said. "I was trying to use a different running style."
Zigging, zagging and ball-faking, Whitman had defenders swinging and missing all day. He scored on dashes of 28, 20, 7 and 4 yards.
"He was bobbing and weaving," Rous said after his Bulldogs improved to 4-1 and 2-0 in the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division. "He looked good."
Vernon Hills (1-4, 0-3) didn't play well in losing its fourth straight, as 4 turnovers resulted in as many touchdowns.
"It's hard," Cougars junior two-way lineman Chris Lannan said. "You're playing so many good teams. We're all working so hard during practices. You try your best, but sometimes it doesn't turn out in your favor."
Things started going sour for Vernon Hills when Grant defensive lineman Luis Echeverria recovered a fumble at the Cougars 27 late in the opening quarter. Three plays later, Grant fullback Jonathan Wells (14 carries, 90 yards) scored from 2 yards out.
Whitman's 28-yard run extended Grant's lead to 14-0 with 9:19 left in the second quarter. Vernon Hills' offense then ran off 17 straight plays, but the 17th was the backbreaker.
Vernon Hills' running back fumbled near the goal line. Cornerback Joe Sadausakas scooped up the ball and raced 98 yards the other way for a touchdown with 53 seconds left in the half.
"If they score and make it 14-7, I think it's a whole different ballgame," said Rous, whose Bulldogs, instead, were up 21-0 at the half. "That's a credit to our defense. (Vernon Hills) was nickel and diming us up and down the field. We got lucky. We popped the ball loose, and Joey was Johnny-on-the-spot there -- or Joey-on-the-spot."
Sadausakas credited sophomore linebackers Jake Lostroscio and Tim Hollins for causing the fumble.
"They stripped it," Sadausakas said. "I scooped and scored for them."
It was Sadausakas' first TD -- and the sprint down the sideline was exhausting.
"I heard someone on the sideline say, 'It looked like you sprinted until about the 40-yard line and then you just died,' " Sadausakas said with a laugh. "It was very hard, but I had to do it."
Vernon Hills never recovered. On the fourth play of the second half, Grant's Billy Sullivan intercepted a tipped pass at midfield. Six plays later, Whitman shaked and baked into the end zone on a 20-yard run.
"The line did great -- open holes the whole game," Whitman said of a veteran O-line unit that featured Echeverria, Jared Lalanda, Dan Haeffele, Tyler Reynolds and junior Andrew Parker. "It was easy for us to make plays."
When Vernon Hills got the ball back, Keion Miller intercepted a deep pass. Whitman's 7-yard run capped a seven-play scoring drive. Whitman's score from 4 yards out with 38 seconds left in the third started a running clock and capped a 22-point quarter for the home team.
"It was a competitive game the first half," Lannan said. "The fumble kind of took it out of us. We went into the half hanging our heads, and it showed on the scoreboard in the end."
Vernon Hills broke the shutout when quarterback Brett Peterson broke the plane from 5 yards out in the fourth. Cougars coach Tony Monken thinks it was the first time his team was the victim of a running clock since its state quarterfinal loss to Rochelle in 2001.
"We'll get back to work Monday and see where we go," Monken said. "We got a lot of work to do, though. We were getting whipped up front a little today and were making too many mental mistakes."