The season debut of Glenbard North junior running back Mark Finley on Friday meant less two-way action for senior captain and linebacker/running back Jayleen Fitzpatrick.
"I'm fine with it because going both ways, I was kind of tired," Fitzpatrick said. "But still I did it to help my team. I'll do whatever to help the team."
Both players made significant contributions in the Panthers' biggest victory so far -- 20-7 over previously undefeated DuPage Valley Conference co-leader Naperville North in front of a jubilant homecoming crowd in Carol Stream.
Fitzpatrick had a fumble recovery and interception as part of a strong defensive effort against an opponent that led the DuPage Valley Conference with 173 points scored.
Finley rushed for 46 times for 295 yards with a 41-yard TD run on the opening drive of the second half to open a 20-0 advantage.
"I didn't know that was coming," said Fitzpatrick of the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Finley's effort.
"We were coming into this game looking to turn heads. In the locker room we wanted this type of game, like an Alabama versus LSU. We came in this atmosphere that this was a big-time game."
The Panthers (3-2, 2-2) missed a 34-yard field goal at the outset of the second half but scored TDs on their next two possessions against the Huskies (4-1, 3-1).
Tyrik Henderson caught a pass from Lee Rady by the right sideline at the 29 and sprinted the rest of the way for a 36-yard TD. After Fitzpatrick's interception and short return to the 30, Rady later rolled right and reached the end zone on fourth-and-2 from the 5.
"Our defense played really well against a quality offense, getting some key turnovers, and then we were able to run the ball a little bit," Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. "Our defense has been playing pretty solid all year so it was important that we come in here and get Finley started. He's a slasher. He really made some plays tonight."
Finley received games worth of action. He rushed 46 times of the Panthers' 60 official plays, including 40 of their first 48. Finley gained 100 yards by the end of the first quarter and 143 of the Panthers' 204 at halftime compared with the Huskies' 102.
"I feel great," Finley said. "In the moment I was a little sore, but after I was OK, the adrenaline pumping. I knew it was going to be a big game because they hadn't seen me yet."
The Huskies lost a fumble on their first possession at the Panthers' 30 and committed three more turnovers. Most of their offense came on a 79-yard scoring drive completed by quarterback Drake Davis' 1-yard run with 1:32 left.
"They run the ball at you pretty hard, they're pretty physical and we weren't able to slow them down enough up front," Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said.
"Credit to them, they played really well and we just weren't able to do enough to get it in our type of game. We did some good things. We just weren't able to put the ball in the end zone and we had a couple of turnovers that hurt us."
While this may have been Finley's varsity debut, the offensive line he praised is veteran -- center Augie Gamez, guards Jose Vazquez and Sebastiano Ciaccia, tackles Dylan Baker and Logan Castillo and tight end Jared Skildum. All but Ciaccia are returning starters.
"Coach told us all week we wanted to run the ball," Vazquez said. "Without a doubt. (This victory) was big. They're 4-0. We just had to turn heads. Losing the first two was hard on us. We just had to get our momentum back and play how we play."