What's longer than a two-hour bus ride from Flossmoor to Lincolnshire in Friday traffic?
Try the week Stevenson's football team endured.
After several media outlets ranked the Patriots at or near the top in Class 8A preseason rankings, they headed across the Wisconsin border and, shockingly, lost their season opener to Indian Trail, which is in just its second year as a varsity program.
"It was an unbelievably long week," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "We worked hard in practice, we tried to improve our focus and our execution, we saw improvement, and we could not wait for game day because we wanted to right our wrongs."
The Patriots played better Friday night in their home opener, but a pair of long-named players helped Homewood-Flossmoor's ride home feel not quite so long. Sophomore Deante Harley-Hampton returned a kickoff 95 yards for a tiebreaking touchdown with 7:02 left in the fourth quarter -- after the hosts had pulled even -- and the Vikings pulled out a 28-21 nonconference win.
"It was a great game," said Stevenson wide receiver/safety Matt Morrissey, whose fourth-quarter effort was nearly heroic. "They're a great program, always have been. They really did grind it out today. They played well. I thought we played pretty well but just didn't finish at the end. We didn't make the plays we needed to."
Harley-Hampton rushed for 49 yards on 12 carries and caught 6 passes for 33 yards, while his twin brother Devonte Harley-Hampton added 44 rushing yards on 13 carries.
"I love having them running in the backfield," H-F linebacker Robert Anthony said. "They played great."
Anthony had 2 of Homewood-Flossmoor's 3 interceptions against Stevenson quarterback Willie Bourbon -- all in the second half -- as the Vikings improved to 2-0, while dropping Stevenson to 0-2.
"It took a lot (to win the game)," Anthony said. "We didn't have a great focus (in practice) like we were supposed to. We had to come out here and make plays. They're supposedly the preseason No. 1-ranked team, and that was big for us. We needed to win this game."
Stevenson never led but proved resilient by matching Homewood-Flossmoor after each of its first three touchdowns. Vashon Nutt's TD runs of 1 and 3 runs accounted for the Vikings' pair of scores through three quarters. Stevenson got a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bourbon (17-of-26 passing, 218 yards) to Cameron Green (4 catches, 55 yards) and Bourbon's 13-yard touchdown.
Deante Harley-Hampton sped around right end and scored from 7 yards out with 10:35 left in the fourth, capping a 17-play, 78-yard drive. But then the Michigan State-bound Morrissey took over, first intercepting QB Isaac Cutrara (15 of 18, 113 yards) and then hooking up with Bourbon on a 73-yard scoring play with 7:16 to go.
But Deante Harley-Hampton took the ensuing kickoff the distance down the right sideline to put the visitors in front for good.
Isaiah Heard intercepted Bourbon at midfield with 2:27 left, and after Homewood-Flossmoor missed a 32-yard field goal try that would have all but sealed the victory, Stevenson had one last chance.
Anthony then picked off Bourbon over the middle, and the Vikings ran out the remaining 55 seconds left on the clock.
"I never believed in the preseason rankings," said Morrissey, who had 4 receptions for 132 yards. "We got to take game by game. We're in a hole right now -- 0-2 -- but you just got to keep building on the positives, learn from your mistakes and keep moving on."
"It was a playoff-quality type of football game," McNamara said. "We just aren't executing well enough through four quarters of football to win those types of games yet. But hopefully we'll be there at the end."