How would host Vernon Hills perform without two graduated Division I standouts playing in its 2011 season-opening football game Friday night?
The answer to that question would be somewhat unclear after a wild first half that saw the Cougars take a 37-26 lead into halftime of this nonconference shootout game against Dunbar.
But when all was said and done, Vernon Hills posted a comfortable 58-34 victory by scoring the final 21 points of the streaky game.
The defense was shaky for both squads from the outset as Vernon Hills went ahead 2-0 on a safety two minutes into the contest.
Then senior quarterback Steve Nelson scored on a 5-yard keeper before the first of 8 extra points by Jeremy Cohen gave the Cougars an early 9-0 lead.
Vernon Hills senior Jarrett Wood's 26-yard TD run on a counter play made the score 16-0 as the hosts looked like they were ready for a potential blowout.
But Dunbar bounced back with 18 unanswered points of its own as a 14-yard TD pass from Darvell Harris to Jayton Dorsey gave the visitors an 18-16 lead with 4:10 left in the first half.
Two plays later, Wood showed unbelievable footwork, breaking numerous tackles en route to a 49-yard TD run and a 23-18 edge.
Then after Wood recovered a Harris fumble on the Dunbar 8, teammate Sam Maloof scored the second time he touched the ball as his 8-yard TD run made the score 30-18.
The late second quarter scoring continued when Wood worked his magic again for a 51-yard TD run up the middle for a 37-18 advantage to cap a 21-point Cougars' run 55.6 seconds before intermission. Wood had 134 yards on 4 carries in the first half alone.
But as fate would have it, Harris (129 yards rushing) scored on a 68-yard run on a fake punt with just 15.3 seconds left in the first half to cut the gap to 37-26.
"The Harris twins are special athletes, and I think our kids learned a lesson about how to defend against those kinds of athletes," said Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken. "We obviously have a lot of work to do and you never like to give up that many points."
"Wood is a great player and he's been a starter for three years," added Monken.
Dunbar cut the gap to 37-34 on a 7-yard TD pass from Harris to Dorsey early in the third quarter.
But the Cougars dominated the rest of the game as Maloof scored on a 32-yard TD run for his second TD on only the third time he touched the ball for a 44-34 lead.
Junior Dylan McNamara (83 yards on 19 carries) boosted the lead to 51-34 on a 15-yard TD run up the middle with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
Then McNamara added a 1-yard TD run to close out the scoring with 20.4 seconds to play.
Besides Wood and McNamara, Vernon Hills' diverse running game was bolstered by Maloof (81 yards on 4 carries), Tyler Peterson (51 yards on 5 carries), Grady Skeoch (37 yards on 5 carries), and Tyler Alper (36 yards on 6 carries.
Nelson was 3-for-4 passing for 59 yards and he added 38 yards on 13 rushes.
"I had some great blocking up front, especially on the right side and I couldn't have done it without them," said Wood. "Now we definitely have a lot of weapons, and we're going to use them a lot throughout the season so I'm excited."
Ohio State bound Evan Spencer was in attendance for Friday night's game while 2010 graduate DaVaris Daniels is playing at Notre Dame this fall.