In what turned out to be a microcosm of Libertyville's topsy-turvy season, the visiting Wildcats battled back from a second-half deficit to pull away from Zion-Benton on Friday night and win the North Suburban Lake and season finale for both teams 35-16.
Libertyville senior running back Conor Simpson went out in style, rushing for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Riley Lees also scored a pair of TDs for the winners, tallying on a 7-yard run to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, then racing 76 yards on a kickoff return to give his team the lead for good 21-16 in the third quarter.
"I really felt motivated tonight and when I feel like I'm in the zone, I'm not going to let anyone stop me," said Simpson, who appeared to be stopped for short yardage on several occasions, but spun away from tacklers to gain more ground.
"I like to try to keep my feet moving and that often helps keep me up. We knew Zion was going to fight tonight and hit hard, and they did. But I wanted my last game to be special and we came out with a win."
Down 14-0, the Zee-Bees (2-7, 1-5) got back into the game late in the first half on a 16-run touchdown run by junior running back Maurice Young and a 27-yard field goal by senior David Fajardo. They then grabbed a 16-14 lead early in the third quarter when Young raced into the end zone from 22 yards out.
But all of the momentum that Zion-Benton had built up during that span was erased when Lees returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD. The Wildcats (4-5, 2-4) closed out the scoring with a 16-yard TD run by Simpson and a 1-yard TD plunge by senior Pat McKiernan. Junior John Lubenow was 5-for-5 on his extra point kicks.
"We've been resilient all season and this game was no exception," said Libertyville coach Mike Jones. "We've been up and down all year, much like this game tonight, but it was good to see us finish on an up note.
"Conor really toughed it out for us tonight despite shoulder and knee issues. He was as tough as nails out there. He took some hits, but he just kept going."
Libertyville junior defensive back Brett Becker set the tone for the defense on Zion-Benton's first series when he intercepted a pass at the Wildcats' 26-yard line. Later in the first half, junior defensive back Mac Copeland sacked Zee-Bees quarterback Doug Gates, causing a fumble that Libertyville junior defensive lineman Jordan McInerney pounced on.