A "Bubba" knows when he sees "Bubba-sized" football players.
Grayslake North senior wide receiver/safety Elliott "Bubba" Hochstein got an up-close look at a thick Belvidere North squad during Saturday's Class 6A second-round state playoff game.
"When they stepped on the field, we were all amazed how big these guys were," Hochstein said. "I think that's what separated them from any triple-option team we played this year. They were just so big and physical, but it was fun giving it our best to try to stop them."
Grayslake North coach Sam Baker said during the week that his Knights would need to play their best game to earn a quarterfinal berth for the first time in the 12-year history of the program. They couldn't deliver. Belvidere North rode 6-foot, 235-pound fullback Cruz Garza, who gained 216 of the Blue Thunder's 290 rushing yards, and walked off Grayslake North's turf with a 14-7 win.
No. 14 Belvidere North (7-4), which needed to win its last three games of the regular season to earn an at-large postseason berth, will finally get a home game after two road wins. The Blue Thunder will host No. 7 Hoffman Estates (9-2) in what will be their second quarterfinal game in 11 years as a program.
"Just our consistency, both sides of the ball," Belvidere North coach Jeff Beck said of what's been the key during his team's five-game winning streak. "Defense has stepped up and has played some good football recently. Offensively, we're just making our possessions count."
No. 11 Grayslake North finished 7-4 in its first season under Baker.
"This is going to sting for a long time because this is one we felt like we could have won, especially on our home field," Baker said. "Losing three times at home in a year (losses to Lakes and Antioch as well) is brutal."
Hochstein finished his three-year varsity career with a 7-catch effort that gave him 52 receptions this season. He's actually not "Bubba-sized" at 5-9 and 160 pounds -- he says he was a "chunky baby" and thus got nicknamed by his older brother Easton -- and he and his teammates had trouble with Belvidere North's size and strength.
Garza carried the ball 34 times, helping his team control the clock. The Blue Thunder, which attempted only 2 passes (both incompletions), ran 67 plays to Grayslake North's 39.
"They were taking away the quarterback," Beck said of the Knights. "They were sending two guys at our quarterback because he had a really good season rushing the ball (leading the team in rushing yards). That opened the door for Cruz."
Belvidere North QB Callahan Diercks scored the go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left in the third quarter. Diercks (15 carries, 22 yards) sneaked in from the 1 after fumbling the snap, capping a 10-play drive after Grayslake North had pulled even at 7-7 on Austin Martineau's 32-yard pass to Brett Lila.
Grayslake North responded with a 10-play drive of its own, but the offense stalled at the Belvidere North 34. Martineau threw incomplete on fourth-and-5, as Elliot Powers broke up the pass down the sideline.
Belvidere North kept feeding the ball to Garza, who kept churning out positive yards.
"We just got to get low on him, got to wrap up, swarm the football and take him down," said Grayslake North senior outside linebacker Michael Johnson, who had a sack and 2 tackles for loss. "One guy couldn't take him down. All 11 of us had to take him down."
Garza's 48-yard run on first down from the Belvidere North 30 led to 2-yard TD run that snapped a scoreless tie with 31 seconds left before halftime. Grayslake North finished with 8 penalties for 85 yards. Included were roughing the punter on the game's opening series that negated a three-and-out and an unsportsmanlike that would have given the Knights the ball at the Blue Thunder 31 in the final two minutes.
Belvidere North played without all-conference linebacker/running back Mason Stringini, who was lost to a Week-9 injury. Against Grayslake North, middle linebacker Adrian Acevedo had to be carted off the field late in the third quarter after suffering a leg injury.
Grayslake North moved the ball to the Belvidere North 25 late in the fourth, but back-to-back sacks of Martineau all but officially ended the Knights' season.
"They (brought) a little more pressure on defense than they had shown all year," said Baker, whose Knights had just 159 yards of offense. "They just played better than us. We didn't execute in spots, and we were undisciplined in key areas."