All Wauconda football coach Dave Mills has to do to get his team's attention is shout "Joey," "Mike" or "Michael."
The Bulldogs' roster includes Joey Pausa, Joey Lovelle, Joey Vuich, Joey Schaer, Mike Wroble, Michael Prate, Michael Lezon, Mike Camarena, Michael Bianchi and Michael Miller. "Mike" linebackers surely answer, too, when their coach barks.
"We're giving everybody nicknames," Mills joked.
Wauconda counted nearly as many forced turnovers as Joey's and Mike's at Vernon Hills on Thursday night. The Bulldogs came up with 7 turnovers (4 interceptions) in pulling out an 18-7 win over the Cougars in the two teams' North Suburban Conference Prairie Division opener.
Wauconda, which got 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery from senior cornerback Lovelle, also has a lot of wins: three in as many games.
"We're working as a team, coming together, staying tough," Pausa said.
It was Pausa, Wauconda's senior free safety, whose Pick Six helped spark the visitors' comeback in the second quarter. After Wauconda failed to capitalize on a Prate fumble recovery caused by Nate Magiera's sack -- missing a 37-yard field goal try -- Pausa picked off Cougars sophomore quarterback Connor McNamara. Pausa returned the ball 38 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Bulldogs' deficit to 7-6 midway through the second quarter.
"Our defensive line got to the quarterback fast and forced a bad throw," Pausa said. "Coach made some adjustments during the middle of the first quarter. I saw (the pass) and took off running."
Wauconda defensive coordinator Shawns Rudolph and DBs coach Steve Ziolkowski got in the ears of their defensive players after they allowed Vernon Hills to manufacture the only score of the opening quarter.
McNamara, showing off good feet and a good arm, engineered a 65-yard drive in which he completed 3 of 3 passes, including a pair to Michael Mariella, for 59 yards. McNamara also used second effort to pick up 4 yards on fourth-and-3 from the Wauconda 39. His 22-yard strike to Robby Nardini put the Cougars on the board with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
"We gave up 3-4 big plays on pass coverage, and we can't let that happen," Pausa said.
"We came out slow," Lovelle said.
Tim Trocke intercepted McNamara late in the half, but Wauconda went into halftime trailing 7-6.
Then it got ugly in the third quarter for Vernon Hills (0-3). Lovelle recovered a fumble at the Vernon Hills 42, and Alex Payne (26 carries, 62 yards) scored four plays later from the 3. Wauconda's Jake Grobelny pounced on the ensuing kickoff, which was muffed. Lovelle's first interception led to a 2-play, 18-yard drive that Payne capped with a 4-yard TD run with 9:45 left in the fourth. Lovelle got his second interception -- VH's seventh turnover -- with less than six minutes to go.
McNamara, who was making his second start, finished 9 of 28 for 159 yards.
"We watched a lot of film so we knew that he was going to pass," Lovelle said. "We were just waiting to see what he was doing and reading his eyes."
"We've been saying it since the very beginning of the year: Our defense is very experienced," Mills said. "It took them a quarter to wake up against Woodstock North (in the season opener), but ever since then, they've been playing. Our defense carried us tonight because, offensively, we didn't do much until they gave us a short field."
Vernon Hills got sacks from Kyle Thomas, Nick Donofrio and Chris Lannan, while Steven Didier was in on a pair of tackles for loss.
"I feel sorry for our defense," Cougars coach Bill Bellecomo said. "We got young kids on the offensive side of the ball. We can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win. I'm proud of our defense."