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With a variety of injuries seeming to mount around them, visiting Lakes had to go to Plan B on Friday night at Vernon Hills.
Some of the familiar faces on the Eagles offense were on the bench, but many newcomers stepped into much bigger roles as Lakes built a 21-0 lead over the Cougars at halftime of this North Suburban Conference contest.
From there, Lakes (6-1, 5-0) poured it on in the second half as the Eagles built a 42-0 lead early in the fourth quarter before rolling to a convincing 42-7 NSC Prairie Division victory.
The win marks the Eagles' 14th straight Prairie Division victory dating back to a loss against Antioch in 2011.
Vernon Hills (2-5, 2-2) actually came out with quite a spark in its offense on the Cougars' homecoming night as junior quarterback Connor McNamara helped the hosts get a few quick first downs.
Due to a hand injury to Lakes senior quarterback T.J. Edwards, junior Ethan Sage (7-for-8, 95 yards passing) started at quarterback for the Eagles and he did a good job before he sustained a shoulder injury late in the second quarter.
Edwards also had a knee injury on a kickoff to start the game as the two teams fought through a scoreless first quarter.
But that injury did not stop Edwards from scoring on a 2-yard run on the second play of the second quarter on his only carry of the game. Sage had moved the ball to the 2 on a 25-yard keeper on the previous play. The first of 6 extra points by Cody Brumm made the score 7-0.
To make matters worse for Lakes, senior running back Cameron Johnson (29 yards on 6 carries) strained his left calf at the end of a 20-yard run on the Eagles' next possession and he would not return after that point.
After Sage went out with his injury, junior teammate Jake Balliu (8 rushes for 66 yards) stepped in at quarterback and he also did a good job of running the Eagles' offense.
Balliu hit senior teammate Michal Tomasiewicz with a 23-yard TD pass over the middle as Tomasiewicz slipped by two defenders near the goal line en route to a 14-0 lead 3:14 before the half.
Senior defensive back Jake Zimmerman (2 interceptions) played a huge role for Lakes as he intercepted McNamara at his own 39 before returning the ball all the way down to the Vernon Hills 10.
Two plays later, sophomore Devyn Cedzidlo (110 yards on 12 carries) scored on a 1-yard run and Lakes suddenly had a 21-0 lead with 2:20 left in the first half.
"It was a slow start, but our defense held in there and kept it to a low score," said Cedzidlo. "I really had to step up with the injured players, and as they were dropping we stepped up and filled in for them."
The third quarter was a defensive struggle, but the Eagles got on the scoreboard on a 21-yard TD run by Cedzidlo with 2:09 left in the period for a 28-0 lead.
Then on a strange play, Vernon Hills wide receiver Robby Nardini was fighting for extra yardage when he was stripped of the ball by Lakes' Tom Dubicki on a third-and-6 play.
Dubicki proceeded to race 64 yards in the other direction with the fumble recovery for the touchdown and a 35-0 lead with 17.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
"That's a nice program and we knew coming in they've got some great athletes," said Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo. "We competed well early on, but they have a lot of weapons. They had a couple of kids go down, and when No. 26 (Johnson) went down they just kept bringing in other backs who were running hard."
Senior Mike Brey was effective for Lakes with 44 yards rushing on 6 attempts. Vernon Hills' Mason Geick got 27 hard-earned yards rushing on 11 carries.
Lakes final TD came when Cedzidlo took a pitch on a nice option play from Balliu and Cedzidlo raced 57 yards down the left sideline for a 42-0 lead. The final 9:29 was played with a running clock.
"When you're down a lot of guys it's pretty hard to keep things going, but they kept it going," said Lakes coach Luke Mertens, whose team had 419 total yards of offense. "They're good players and they stepped up well in our time of need and they did a good job."
The Cougars got on the scoreboard when McNamara (17-for-30, 151 yards passing) hit Kiwanne Durant with a 15-yard TD pass over the middle to break up the shutout with 3:31 to play. Mike Mariella's 32-yard reception had taken the ball to the Lakes 11 before a 4-yard loss on first down set the stage for Durant's TD catch.
Vernon Hills senior quarterback Jordan Freibrun could return to action next Saturday at Round Lake. Freibrun broke his leg in the first game of the season against DeKalb.