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It's difficult to remember a time this season when Stevenson's football team didn't have to deal with some type of adversity.
It's even tougher to imagine any of it slowing down the Patriots at this point.
Playing without two-way Michigan State-bound standout Matt Morrissey, who pulled a hamstring in practice early in the week, Stevenson still managed to hold on for a 20-16 victory over Glenbard North in Saturday's second-round Class 8A playoff game in Carol Stream.
Trailing 16-14 early in the fourth quarter after a bad punt snap led to a safety, sixth-seeded Stevenson (9-2) traded possessions with No. 3 Glenbard North (9-2) until the Panthers were forced to punt with just less than five minutes left.
The line-drive kick went right to Patriots junior Cameron Green, who burst through a throng of players to go 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, but Stevenson still held a 20-16 lead.
The Patriots, winners of nine straight games after starting the season 0-2, advance to the 8A quarterfinals to face Barrington.
"My other return man, James Mahoney, he told me, 'You've got to catch this one and take it to the house,'" Green said of his game-winning punt return. "I caught it and everyone was blocking as hard as they could on that play. I was just running, everyone else was doing the work by blocking."
Glenbard North had three more chances to drive for the go-ahead touchdown, but the Panthers couldn't get outside their own 25-yard line. Interceptions by Jason Vravick and Joey Olker ended the first and third drives on the first play of both possessions. Four straight incomplete passes stalled out Glenbard North's second possession.
Northwestern-bound Panthers running back Justin Jackson finished with 282 yards and 2 touchdowns on 38 carries, but he did not touch the ball on any of the final three possessions. He unofficially ends the season with 3,170 rushing yards, 155 yards shy of the IHSA record for rushing yards in a season.
Glenbard North turned the ball over six times, including twice in the end zone -- once just before the half on a Green interception, and the second after the safety when Jackson fumbled as the Panthers were attempting to extend the lead to two scores.
"Turnovers and penalties, and they played well," said Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens. "Their defense did a nice job against our run game. I thought our defense played very well. It was a battle of two good defenses. We turned the ball over more than we would have liked, but a great game on the defensive side. They did a nice job."
Stevenson scored on the game's opening possession as Jack Joseph, who had 12 carries for 72 yards, ran in from 20 yards out. Jackson responded on his second carry with a 56-yard touchdown run, and then added a 47-yard scoring run to put the Panthers ahead 14-7 after a quarter.
Stevenson, which also lost Jimmy Marchese to injury during the game, tied the score at 14 apiece midway through the third quarter on Willie Bourbon's 1-yard dive.
Jackson had 204 yards at the half, but the Patriots did a great job containing him in the second half. Aside from a 47-yard run, Jackson had 14 second-half carries for 31 yards.
"We came out of the half and said, 'If we win the second half, we win the game,'" said Stevenson coach Bill McNamara, whose team has been without Western Michigan-bound offensive lineman Zach Novoselsky most of the season. "So proud of the way our kids played, battled back. Understand, we didn't have Morrissey, we didn't have Novoselsky -- our two senior (Division) I players. That says a lot about our team."
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