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Dressed in military fatigues from head to toe, Grayslake North coach Steve Wood was battle-ready from the start.
His assistant coaches were, too, sporting camouflage T-shirts.
Their players, however, needed some extra time to get on the same page.
On a football Friday in which Grayslake North paid tribute to the armed forces in what was billed as "America Day," it was crosstown rival Grayslake Central that came out with some serious fight.
The visiting Rams fired the first shot and dictated the tempo early.
But Grayslake North ultimately proved to have more weapons (think quarterback A.J. Fish's arm and legs) in the arsenal, rallying from a 7-point deficit to cruise to a 49-7 running clock victory that maintains a spotless record (5-0) in the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division.
Fish, who has directed North to its best record in school history (7-1 overall) as well as its first playoff berth in school history, had a hand in six of seven touchdowns. He passed for 3 touchdowns and ran for three more. He finished with 395 yards of total offense: 225 passing yards and 170 rushing yards.
"It's a big rivalry and Grayslake Central always comes out hot (in this game)," Fish said. "But even though we got down 7-0 early, none of us got down. We knew we could come back. Once we scored a couple times, we knew it would keep on going."
And going, and going and going.
The barrage started when Fish threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Diggs that tied the game at 7-7 with 1:42 left in the first quarter.
After that, Fish scored on runs of 6, 12 and 44 yards. He also found Vincent Smith for a 43-yard touchdown pass and Charlie Pine for a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Somewhere in between, Titus Booker ran in a touchdown for 3 yards for the Knights, who had a 21-7 lead at halftime.
"Once we got in the end zone, we knew we were rolling," said Smith, who caught 3 passes for 94 yards. "A.J. makes such good scrambles and that lets us (receivers) get deep and get open for him. He put that (touchdown pass) right up there for me."
Grayslake Central (2-6, 1-5 FVC Fox) seemed just as in sync early on.
The Rams seized momentum just after kickoff when Natori Galmore ran in a 74-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. Grayslake Central kept the momentum for a while longer by recovering an on-side kick to maintain possession of the ball. Then, when the Rams had to punt it away, they turned around and forced Grayslake North into a 3-and-out on its first possession.
The Grayslake North offense didn't put together its first drive of substance until nine minutes into the first quarter.
"We fought hard, and thanks to the offensive line for blocking so well," said Galmore, who rolled up 101 yards on 12 carries. "We were all excited early on. We came out and played hard."
The Rams, who also got 129 yards (on 18 carries) from Jourden Swopes, moved the ball well in the first half. But eight first half penalties for 70 yards cut off drives at the knees and also gave North field position.
"We had the long drives to keep their offense off the field, but we'd end up shooting ourselves in the foot," Grayslake Central coach Ben Ault said. "We put ourselves in positions where we couldn't score or finish drives.
"And A.J. Fish is the premier quarterback in our league, and probably in the county. He's just a really great player."
Fish completed 14-of-18 passes and rushed the ball 19 times for an average of 8.9 yards per carry. His 6 touchdowns were just one shy of his career-best of 7 touchdowns in a game.
"That's just what he does. That's him all the time," Wood said of Fish. "You know what, though? He can play better. It's hard to believe, but he can. He's just that good. I mean, he gets almost 400 yards and he does that when the other team knows he's getting the ball. It's amazing."