Any time Libertyville and Stevenson face off in football, you'd figure it as a hard-nosed, black-and-blue type of game.
Thursday's meeting proved to be no exception.
Libertyville tailback Brendan Bazar and Stevenson sophomore sensation JeanMarc Etienne have been huge for their respective offenses all year long, and you could tell after the opening kickoff that the goal for both teams was the same: Stop the run and play tough defense.
The first half was all about defense as both teams were held scoreless after the first period. The Patriots eventually took the lead and somewhat predictably, their defense made it happen in a 24-10 victory.
Libertyville was pinned back against its own end zone after a great punt by Jack Baruch put the ball at the 5. Wildcats quarterback Alex Stanulis mishandled the snap on second down, and the ball rolled into the endzone where a scrum ensued.
When the officials got to the bottom of the pile, the Patriots had recovered to claim a 7-0 second quarter lead.
"Our guys get hungrier when we're near the red zone, and once we got the punt to pin them inside the 10-yard line, the kids said let's go get it," said Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth. "We we're hoping for a safety and it turned into a touchdown for us and was a beautiful thing."
The Stevenson coaching staff made it clear early that making a statement early would set the tone for the rest of the game, and after the defense gave them good field position, it was the offense's turn to get involved.
Facing a fourth-and-2 and deep inside the Libertyville red zone, the decision wasn't a hard one: Give the ball to the sophomore workhorse and let him go to work.
"Number 40 -- Jonny Kull. He made a block for me and the O-Line opened up a nice hole there. Just had to make a play for the team," said Etienne.
Etienne took the inside handoff on fourth down, bounced between the guard and broke free into the secondary, spinning into the end zone for the 12-yard score to put Stevenson up 14-0.
The Stevenson front seven had a mission Thursday night and that mission was not allowing Bazar to have any room to break free on the ground. They achieved that and more, allowing him just 16 yards on 9 carries in the first half after his 200-yard performance last week.
What may be lost in the final score is the fact that Libertyville's defense played well in this game. Etienne ran for 71 yards in the first half, but the Wildcats had opportunities to put points on the board and were unable to do so.
Bazar did manage to find the end zone on a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough. He finished with just 28 yards rushing. He also had 6 receptions for 52 yards.
The Wildcats' defensive line bottled up Etienne, stopping him behind the line several times in the third quarter, but Etienne had the last say. He took a delayed handoff on third and 6 late in the third quarter and was off to the races going virtually untouched on a 74-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach. The tailback rushed for a game-high 173 on 24 carries and two scores.
The Patriots defense closed the game out with 2 interceptions to go along with their fumble recovery and defensive touchdown.
Stevenson hasn't been able to play many close games in recent weeks, but Thursday's game against Libertyville was different as it gave them an opportunity to play a game where two or three moments could have changed the outcome. Hjorth knows this type of game is one his team needed to play in.
"We played pretty well on a short week. One of things we continue to preach is continue to work with our process. Trusting ourselves and the coaches," said Hjorth.
The Wildcats finish a three-game homestand next week against Mundelein, while Stevenson returns home to take on Lake Zurich.