Grayslake North's football program knows what it's like to be chasing an elusive first victory.
Now the Knights are doing it again.
Grayslake North played its first varsity football game in 2006 and lost its first 15 games before beating Grayslake Central 31-6 in Week 7 of the 2007 season.
The Knights enjoyed their first winning season in 2010, going 5-4, and then finally broke through last season, going 8-1 during the regular season to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time, while also winning their first Fox Valley Conference Fox Division championship. They then lost to Notre Dame 46-27 in the first round in Class 6A.
The Knights went 7-2 in the regular season this year, finishing second to Crystal Lake Central in the FVC Fox, before losing to Rolling Meadows 49-20 in a Class 6A state playoff opener last Friday night.
"We can be successful in the Fox, if that's our goal," said Steve Wood, who's been Grayslake North's only head coach in its eight seasons as a varsity program. "But that's not our goal. We need to take that next step. The first round of the playoffs is like getting that first win. Once we got our first win and had a little bit of success, we kind of steamrolled. Right now we're having a hard time getting that first win."
Rolling Meadows hit Grayslake North with 14 points in the opening quarter, including a 56-yard touchdown pass on the Mustangs' first snap from scrimmage, and led 35-0 at halftime. When Rolling Meadows scored early in the third quarter, a running clock started.
"Obviously we've played two really good teams (in the playoffs the last two years)," Wood said. "But we haven't played well. We came out a little gun shy and, I don't want to say scared, but nervous."
Booker rewriting book: For the second week in a row, Grayslake North running back Titus Booker broke his own single-game rushing record.
The junior carried 35 times for 287 yards in the Knights' Class 6A playoff-opening loss to visiting Rolling Meadows last Friday night. He had second-half touchdown runs of 79 and 1 yards.
The previous week, Booker rushed for 274 yards and 5 touchdowns in a victory at Woodstock North.
A high-ankle sprain suffered early in the season essentially affected Booker the entire season. He sat out wins in Week 2 and Week 3 against Milwaukee Hamilton and Woodstock, respectively.
"He's still not 100 percent," coach Steve Wood said. "He still doesn't have that overdrive, where he can drop it down and just get away. When he's in the open, he can. But when he's running through the hole, he's still missing that a little."
Booker finished his second varsity season with 1,295 rushing yards and 14 TDs. And he just might top those numbers next season.
"He's extremely talented," Wood said. "Everybody knows that."
But Booker's achy ankle limited the ways Wood and staff hoped to use the 6-foot, 175-pounder on the field. The Knights have "hardly scratched the surface" with their young star, Wood added.
"He's awesome," senior linebacker Spencer Davis said of his teammate. "He runs hard. He runs quick. He'll keep doing things, even at the next level."
Looking ahead: Titus Booker isn't Grayslake North's only playmaker expected to return next season. Sophomore Merrick Gentile was one of the best quarterbacks in Lake County as a varsity rookies, while slotback Brad Baker followed up a great sophomore campaign with another strong season catching the ball. Gentile rushed for 993 yards and 17 TDs, while throwing for 1,335 yards and 13 scores. Baker had 39 receptions, including 6 for TDs. Junior Andrew Martineau caught 19 passes, including 4 for scores.
"The good news is, we return just about our entire offense," Wood said.
The defense graduates nine starters, however. The returners are linebacker George Deligiannis and lineman Jordan Suchowski. Logan Morita and Jake McCue shared time at cornerback in the Knights' playoff game against Rolling Meadows.
Sequoits' seniors special: Antioch coach Brian Glashagel had high praise for this seniors throughout the season, and that didn't change after his team's season-ending loss to Sycamore last Saturday.
Sycamore jumped out to a 28-0 lead by halftime, before winning 48-24.
"You guys have no idea how much we coaches talk about you seniors," Glashagel told his players as they knelt dejectedly on Sycamore's Engh Community Field afterward.
Antioch was once 2-4 but won its last three games to finish 5-4 and earn an at-large berth into the state playoffs. It was the Sequoits' fourth trip to the postseason in Glashagel's seven years as head coach.
"Very good (senior) group," Glashagel said. "The way they conduct themselves at school and the way they committed to the off-season, you just knew it was a good group. We had some good athletes and we did some good things. It was a pleasure every day to coach them. They're going to be so successful (after high school), too. There's a lot of talented kids, academically and athletically."