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Article updated: 10/26/2013 12:14 AM
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Stevenson wraps up NSC Lake title
 

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Stevenson wraps up NSC Lake title
  • Lake Zurich's Brent Sweetwood is tackled by Stevenson's Sam Oriatti after making a catch during Friday's NSC Lake showdown in Lincolnshire.

    Purchase Photo | Lake Zurich's Brent Sweetwood is tackled by Stevenson's Sam Oriatti after making a catch during Friday's NSC Lake showdown in Lincolnshire. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 

Stevenson had been there and done that.

And perhaps the difference in Friday night's battle for the North Suburban Conference Lake Division title, which was settled 24-17 in Stevenson's favor on the final play of the game, was that Lake Zurich had not.

Stevenson surrendered 17 unanswered points in the first quarter. Yet, quarterback Willie Bourbon insists that no one on the sideline was panicked.

"It kind of reminded me of the season," said Bourbon, referring to the Patriots' surprising 0-2 start. "We started off on a rocky road this year, but we kept the resilience going. We did the same thing tonight."

The Patriots, who recovered from their 0-2 start to win their next six games, not only made up their huge deficit, they also took a lead into the fourth quarter.

And no Lake Zurich opponent has done that this season. The Bears have never been behind in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Bears aren't used to any team even staying within striking distance. Through their 8-0 start, their average margin of victory was 28 points and they allowed about 6 points per game.

"They're a great team with a great offense and a great defense, and they came out firing," Bourbon said of 8-1 Lake Zurich, which had three good shots at the end zone from about 30 yards out over the final 16 seconds. "But this time, we were able to land the last punch on them."

The first punch for Stevenson, which moves to 7-2, wins its fifth Lake Division crown in the last nine years and is now in good shape to get a first-round home playoff game, was just as important.

The Patriots got on the scoreboard in dramatic, momentum-shifting fashion.

On a Lake Zurich punt, junior Kevin Pearson got his hands on the ball for a big block and Ryan Mass scooped it and ran 30 yards for a touchdown. That cut Stevenson's deficit to 17-7 with 7:50 left in the second quarter.

"We called 'punt block' and I knew that was my special play," said Pearson, whose first blocked punt of the season came at the perfect time. "I got through the line with a lot of adrenaline and jumped up and I guess it just happened.

"Us being down 17-0, with that blocked punt, it just boosted our spirits. Then, we just got out there and we just played."

The pumped-up Patriots then got a couple of stops and scored again just before halftime, this time on a Jack Joseph 5-yard run. Shaken and in foreign territory, Lake Zurich left the field clinging to a 17-14 lead.

"They just made some plays and we didn't," said Lake Zurich running back Sean Lynch, who rushed for 86 yards on 15 carries and scored one of the Bears' first quarter touchdowns (on a 2-yard run). "We came out strong but it was a string of plays that just didn't go our way and they started making plays."

Joseph, whose hard-nosed running softened Lake Zurich's defense against the pass and allowed Bourbon (162 passing yards) to make big plays down the stretch, scored again midway through the third quarter. His 8-yard run capped a 13-play drive and gave Stevenson its first lead (21-17) with 4:10 left.

The Patriots got some insurance points from kicker Mike Gambino early in the fourth quarter with a 27-yard field goal.

"It was huge to get the running game going," said Joseph, who finished with 73 yards on 16 carries. "We all know that we have a lot of talented receivers here and that we like to throw the ball. But our line did a great job of making some big holes tonight to run through. I've got to give props to the line."

Joseph also gave props to his teammates for keeping their heads in the game early on. Being down 17-0 in the first quarter to an undefeated team that barely allows any points is a tough proposition.

"None of us hung our head, though," Joseph said. "Obviously, it was a rough start. But we were all positive and after that first score, we knew we were going to keep going."

The Bears kept their heads up, too. Even though they had never before faced a fourth-quarter deficit, they kept plugging away until the very last second.

Quarterback Noah Allgood (113 passing yards) got once last set of downs with 28 seconds left after the Bears blocked a punt of their own. That gave them the ball back at the Stevenson 37-yard line and Allgood advanced them to the 27, where he got three good heaves into the end zone.

The Bears just couldn't come down with the ball and Stevenson ended the game by picking off an Allgood pass.

"We never gave up. That's the good thing," Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said. "We learned a lot from this game and we learned a lot about ourselves. We're fighters and we'll stay in it until the end. Our kids kept going. Even right at the end, we had our shots and we were taking them."

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