Stevenson outruns Lakes
Lakes' unblemished record got nicked and so did its budding-star running back.
And then there was Stevenson nose guard Blake Drazner, balancing himself on crutches, his ankle wrapped with ice, and yet somehow smiling, his pain numbed by victory, apparently.
"I just got my leg all cut up in the wash," Drazner said. "It's fine, though. It's just a bruise."
In a North Suburban Conference crossover in which it probably had more to lose than gain, Stevenson, the state's top-ranked team in Class 8A, escaped Lakes unscathed. The Patriots prevailed 21-3 in a battle of unbeaten squads, despite a gutsy effort by its opponent.
"I think our team needs this," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "We need to play an opponent that's that fast. It was very clear that it just took us some time to adjust to the speed."
Running back Jack Joseph rushed 24 times for 139 yards and 2 second-half touchdowns, as Stevenson improved to 5-0. Lakes, which is ranked 10th in Class 6A, fell to 4-1.
"They were a great team," Joseph said of the Eagles. "I knew they were going to be a great matchup. I'm happy that we got to play them. I'm sure they're one of the best opponent we're going to play all year. It was definitely a great test for us, especially coming into the second half of our season."
The loss was potentially costly for Lakes, as running back Devyn Cedzidlo suffered an apparent ankle injury in the first 30 seconds of the second half after his 10th carry of the night netted him 1 yard. Cedzidlo lay on the field for several minutes before being carted off on a stretcher. The junior was coming off back-to-back 3-touchdown games.
Izayah James replaced Cedzidlo and rushed for 47 yards on 14 carries.
"Izayah stepped up and did his job," Lakes wide receiver Jake Balliu said. "Devyn's a great ballplayer. We love him. Big contributor to the team. But when stuff like this happens, everyone has got to step up and do their thing."
Even before Cedzidlo got hurt, however, Lakes had trouble establishing a running game against a Stevenson defense that included Drasner, Patrick O'Connell, Rory Koenig, Jason Vravick, Nick Dillon, Nischay Vallabhar, Jimmy Marchese, Aaron Saper, Kevin Pearson and James Mahoney. The Patriots limited the Eagles to 144 rushing yards and 15 passing yards. Mike Maskaluna had an interception for Stevenson.
"We want to play like we're the best defense in the state," Drazner said. "I felt like we mostly dominated tonight."
Stevenson, meanwhile, moved the ball on the ground in the second half behind Henry Sise, Jeremy Horwitz, Cade Gilbert, Jon Zanillo and Freddie Adkins. Joseph carried the ball 14 times after halftime. His 21-yard TD run capped a six-play, 85-yard drive on the Patriots' first possession of the second half, making it 14-3. Then after Lakes missed a 22-yard field-goal try late in the third, Joseph finished off a nine-play, 80-yard drive by scoring from 1 yard out one minute into the fourth.
"(Lakes) did a nice job of bottling him early," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said of Joseph. "We just stayed patient with our run game. When they were putting five in the box, we knew we had to keep giving him the ball. We challenged our O-line at halftime to play better, and I think they came out in the second half and played a lot better."
"We couldn't have (run the ball effectively) without our O-line," Joseph said. "They did a great job."
Lakes defensive lineman Andrew Potter had a tackle for loss on the game's first play from scrimmage, and that effort was typical throughout the game for the Eagles. A pair of third-down conversions preceded Willie Bourbon's 29-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Green (6 catches, 71 yards), whose spin move allowed him to race down the sideline and into the end zone with 7:50 left in the opening quarter.
Lakes forced Stevenson to punt on its next three possessions. On the third punt, Balliu had a 44-yard return, which set up Cody Brumm's 25-yard field goal with 3:45 left in the opening half. Lakes sophomore cornerback Cameron Ruiz intercepted Bourbon (17 of 27, 214 yards) near the goal line to keep the Patriots out of the end zone in the final minute of the half.
"We've got a good football team," Mertens said. "Call that arrogant. Call that whatever you want. These guys are good, and I think they proved it today. They went toe to toe with what everyone says is the best team in the state."