It was a good finish to a tough season for host Vernon Hills in the Cougars' North Suburban Prairie Division finale Friday night against Round Lake.
The Cougars broke open a 14-14 deadlock with 2 fourth-quarter touchdowns before holding off a late Panthers rally to capture a hard-fought 28-21 victory.
Vernon Hills (2-7, 1-5) took the lead with 10:51 to play as reserve quarterback Jordan Freibrun faked a handoff and raced 25 yards for the TD before the third of 4 extra points by Jeremy Cohen made the score 21-14.
Deep in its own territory, Round Lake (0-9, 0-6) tried a halfback option, but that pass was intercepted by Gabe Cotton, who took the ball down to the Panthers' 2-yard-line.
Two plays later, senior Sam Maloof ran wide right and into the end zone for a 28-14 advantage with 5:13 to play.
The Panthers never quit, though, as a fumble recovery by senior Dan Cleveland with 4:01 kept their hopes of a comeback victory alive with 4:01 remaining.
Round Lake junior quarterback John Ridley (9-for-18, 124 yards passing) faked a pitch to Steven Handy on fourth down before hitting wide-open junior Chris Washington for a 42-yard TD.
Sophomore Freddy Araiza's third extra point cut the gap to 28-21 with 3:37 to go.
"We played hard and that was what our season was like with too many mistakes out there," said Round Lake coach John Coursey. "We've got a lot of young guys so we've got a bright future. Vernon Hills was ready, they made big plays when they had to and we didn't."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Cougars struck first on the halfback option as Cotton hit a wide-open Maloof with a 21-yard TD pass in the right corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 7:31 left in the second quarter.
A good fake by Ridley led to a big 30-yard run by sophomore Chris Perry on Round Lake's first scoring drive before Ridley hit Tyler Johnson with a 10-yard scoring strike on a slant pattern to tie the score at 7-7 3:14 before halftime.
Vernon Hills came up big as a 21-yard run by T.J. Flis proceeded a 16-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Brett Peterson to Cotton near the left corner of the end zone just 23 seconds before the intermission.
"It's nice when you can end your football career on a high note," said Peterson, who had 102 yards of total offense. "We just wanted to give it all we had. We all knew this day would come, and we just wanted to leave it all on the field."
A 32-yard pass from Ridley to Araiza on a fake punt was one of the highlight's to Round Lake's second scoring drive. Later, a pass interference call was followed by a 6-yard TD pass from Ridley to Washington deep in the left corner of the end zone to make the score 14-14 with 6:26 left in the third quarter.
"Fortunately we were able to overcome some of the mistakes we made, but we battled through it and it was a great win for our seniors on senior night," said Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken. "We went to the shotgun package right at the beginning of the fourth quarter to give them a different look and that made a big difference. Thankfully we had a two-touchdown lead when they threw that (last) touchdown pass."
Monken was pretty happy with his defense which featured 2 interceptions by Mike Mariella along with interceptions by Rich Clark and Cotton.
After missing four games due to a knee injury, Vernon Hills senior Dylan McNamara rushed for 47 yards on 10 carries before being knocked out of the game by injury after a 10-yard carry midway through the third quarter.
Junior Mason Geick was impressive for the Cougars with 72 yards on only 6 attempts as he ran for 49 yards on his first carry just before Freibrun's 25-yard TD run.
Freibrun rushed for 42 yards on 5 carries while Perry had 47 yards on 8 rushes. Peterson had 58 yards on 11 runs.