It was an all-around tough start to the football season for host Vernon Hills on Friday night against visiting DeKalb.
Not only did the Cougars have to endure a nearly two-hour lightning delay before the game finally started, but they also saw a 10-0 lead late in the third quarter quickly slip away after one key turning point.
The Barbs (1-0) capitalized on a fumble late in the third quarter before rolling off 25 unanswered points in the final 12:47 of the contest en route to a 25-10 nonconference victory over Vernon Hills (0-1).
Junior Kyle Thomas got the Cougars on the scoreboard first as teammate Nick Donofrio sacked DeKalb quarterback Jack Sauter in his own end zone to set up the big play.
Thomas quickly scooped up the fumble in the end zone and covered it for the touchdown before teammate Jeremy Cohen kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
Despite having heavily recruited junior running back Dre Brown in the backfield, DeKalb struggled offensively overall in the first half with Vernon Hills cornerback Mike Mariella intercepting 2 passes off of Sauter, including one in the end zone to kill the Barbs' first potential scoring drive.
Some great punting by Vernon Hills senior Pat Crowley also helped the Cougars' cause with some great field position throughout the contest.
Crowley's 34-yard half back option pass to teammate Kiwanne Durant brought the ball down to the Barbs' 7-yard line with a personal foul tacked onto the end of the play.
Cohen booted a 22-yard field goal with 7:24 left in the second quarter. That is where the score remained until Vernon Hills running back Richard Clark (50 yards on 13 carries) lost a fumble on the DeKalb 26-yard-line at the end of an 11-yard run.
That was the small glimmer of hope that the Barbs needed as Eriq Torrey (86 yards on 7 carries) broke free on first down for a 65-yard run down the left sideline before getting caught by Clark at the 9-yard-line.
Brown (146 yards on 22 rushes) finished off the quick scoring drive with a 9-yard TD run up the middle to cut the lead to 10-7 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I thought our defense played great, but it was a struggle early," said DeKalb coach Matt Weckler. "But we only play our guys one way so we started wearing them down and our guys stayed fresh."
After a Vernon Hills punt, Brown finally broke a long run as he ran left and bolted 55 yards down the left sideline for the TD and a 13-10 lead after a missed extra point with 5:51 to play.
The Cougars were snake-bitten again midway through the fourth quarter as starting quarterback Jordan Freibrun (50 yards on 13 rushes) injured his left calf at the end of a 22-yard keeper and he never returned to the game after that point.
Reserve quarterback Connor McNamara did have an 8-yard keeper on second down. But a 5-yard penalty and a negative 1-yard pass forced Vernon Hills to punt with 4:34 remaining.
Sauter (65 yards on 18 attempts) also came alive down the stretch with a 24-yard keeper as both teams were assessed multiple personal foul penalties in the fourth quarter.
Torrey had a key 16-yard run before Brown scored on a 5-yard keeper off right tackle to boost the lead to 19-10 with 59 seconds left.
DeKalb's Chauncie Perkins really put the game out of reach when he intercepted McNamara and raced 28 yards to close out the scoring with 40 seconds to go.
"We were in command the whole game until about the seven-minute mark of the third quarter," said Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo. "After the fumble there was a sudden change in the game and then they fell apart on us. But give DeKalb credit, that kid (Brown) kept fighting and we couldn't put them away."
Bellecomo was understandably concerned with Freibrun's injury, but hopeful that it is not too serious.
"We were struggling throwing the ball and we started to get the running game going in the third quarter," Bellecomo said. "Jordan (Freibrun) is a pretty tough kid and they'll evaluate him tomorrow and see where he is at."