Rolling Meadows senior Matt Campbell had a conversation with his football teammate, Mustangs quarterback Bobby Suchecki, during the day Friday.
"I was telling him at school today, 'Throw me the ball. I'll make it work,' " Campbell said.
Odd request for a guy who wears No. 90, but don't let the jersey number fool you. Campbell may have defensive end size (6 feet, 200 pounds), but he is indeed a wide receiver as well as a safety.
"They give me a hard time about that (jersey number)," Campbell joked of his teammates.
In Rolling Meadows' Class 6A state playoff opener Friday night at Grayslake North, Suchecki acquiesced to Campbell's request, throwing him a long pass on the Mustangs' first snap from scrimmage. The play resulted in a 56-yard touchdown strike, setting the tone for the night, as No. 10 Rolling Meadows cruised to a 49-20 win over the No. 7 seed on a rainy night in Grayslake.
When Kevin Montero scored his fifth touchdown of the night early in the third quarter, Rolling Meadows led 42-0, commencing a running clock.
"It was awesome," said Campbell, who caught 3 passes for 103 yards (all in the first half) and also broke up 2 passes. "We practiced hard all week and our defense just showed up to play. We were ready to go."
Rolling Meadows (7-3) moves on to play No. 2 Batavia, while Grayslake North, which got a school-record 287 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns from junior running back Titus Booker, saw its season end at 7-3.
"Size-wise, we matched up, but their strength was head and shoulders better," Knights coach Steve Wood said of the Mustangs. "They were just way stronger than we were. They just pushed us around."
Rolling Meadows pushed its lead to 14-0 on its second possession, as Montero scored his first TD from 1 yard out on fourth-and-goal with 6:43 left in the opening quarter. The Mustangs' defense remained stout against a Grayslake North squad that averaged 35 points per game during the regular season.
"Before we got a chance to take a breath we were down 14-0, and then the defense played pretty well," Wood said. "We got two, three, four stops in a row. We just needed our offense to put something on the board to take a little pressure off. Obviously that didn't happen, and then they kind of steamrolled again."
When Montero raced into the end zone from 9 yards out, after Suchecki (9-of-18 passing, 299 yards, 4 TDs) hit Campbell for a 25-yard gain, the Mustangs' lead was 21-0 with 9:55 left before halftime. Grayslake North's offense then finally mounted a drive, but Rolling Meadows' defense stuffed Knights sophomore QB Merrick Gentile (33 rushing yards, 80 passing yards) on fourth-and-inches from the Mustangs 12. Suchecki then threw long to Romello Boykin for 37 yards. Three plays later, Suchecki hit a wide-open Boykin for a 49-yard touchdown strike and 28-0 lead.
"They came out a lot faster than us and a lot more physical than us," said Grayslake North linebacker Spencer Davis, who caught a 5-yard TD pass in the third quarter. "They scored early and often, and we weren't getting it done on either side of the ball."
Suchecki's third TD pass of the half came on a screen toss to Montero, who got a great block inside the 5 from Campbell.
"I think we just had a little more speed than them," Rolling Meadows coach Matt Mishler said. "It certainly wasn't anything about how hard (Grayslake North) played or their scheme. I felt good about us. I thought they were a really good football team and I still do."
Booker's 79-yard TD sprint got Grayslake North on the board in the third quarter, and Eli Atwater's recovery of an onside kick led to Gentile's short touchdown pass to Davis. Rolling Meadows responded later in the third, as Montero busted off a 66-yard TD run.
Montero finished with 87 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards. He credited offensive linemen George Someris, Francisco Trejo, Jason Scheele, Greg Off and Billy Golaris.
"It was the blocking," Montero said. "The blocking was great. There were huge holes. I just had to hit them."
Montero had been slowed this season by a recurring foot injury.
"I think this is the first week where he felt really good, and it showed," Mishler said. "He's been a workhorse. He's a warrior for us. We always go into every game saying we need to get him touches and yards."
Grayslake North played its fourth game in a row without all-conference cornerback Mike McGrath, who broke his ankle in Week 6 against Crystal Lake Central, and the Knights missed him.
"We were expecting to come out on top," Montero said. "But we didn't expect to come out on top this much."