Stevenson turns up the 'D'
It's easy to get swept up in Stevenson's offense.
The high-scoring, pass-happy Patriots are fun to watch and feature some of the best athletes in Lake County, including two future Northwestern Wildcats. Wide receiver Cameron Green will be continuing his football career in Evanston while quarterback Willie Bourbon will be playing baseball there.
With its stars shining bright all season, Stevenson ranked among the top scoring teams in the North Suburban Conference with 31.4 points per game.
Meanwhile, without quite as much hype, its defense actually did one better, and led the entire league in points allowed with 11 per game.
That stinginess was on display again on Saturday as the Stevenson defense put a chokehold on visiting New Trier, propelling the undefeated and top-seeded Patriots (12-0) to a 38-10 Class 8A quarterfinal victory that extends their playoff run to a semifinal date against No. 2 Glenbard West in Glen Ellyn next week. Glenbard West defeated No. 6 Barrington 28-21.
The Trevians were essentially held to just 3 points. Their touchdown came with 28 seconds left in the game and mostly reserve defenders on the field.
"We get overlooked all the time," Stevenson lineman Nick Dillon said about the defense. "We're fine with that. We love being the underdogs on the team.
"We do have some athletes though, and we work well together as a team. Today we did a good job of shutting down the key things that (New Trier) wanted to do."
New Trier, primarily a run-oriented team, couldn't get much going on the ground. The Trevians netted just 63 rushing yards on the game, 50 of which came from senior Kevin Mulhern.
"They just physically have some kids who are extremely gifted athletes," New Trier coach Brian Doll said of the Stevenson defense. "I'm not going to get all of their names, but I'd say one guy is No. 55 (Jason Vavrick). He's one of the best linebackers I've seen all year.
"Defensive back-wise, they just did a really good job of shutting things down with blanketing our receivers. And, they're just relentless. They run a defense that not a lot of other teams run. It's the first time we've seen a 3-3 stack this year. It's different for our kids to see and to practice against, and sometimes that's tough when you get into a playoff game."
New Trier actually had a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter on a 21-yard field goal by Nick Endre. Stevenson's first three possessions ended in a missed field goal, an interception and a lost fumble.
But the Patriots got back to normal in the second quarter, exploding for 21 unanswered points. Green (9 catches, 107 yards) got things started with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bourbon that was set up by a 34-yard connection between the two.
Bourbon wound up completing 17 of 31 passes for 210 yards.
Jack Joseph also scored in the second quarter on a 1-yard run. It was his first of 2 touchdowns. He finished with 129 yards on 14 carries.
Bourbon scored again just before halftime on a 7-yard run. That gave Stevenson a 21-3 lead at the break.
"At the beginning, I was a little jumpy and it took us a little bit to settle in, but once we did, we got our guys the ball and look what they did," Bourbon said. "It was good that we settled in and it was good that the defense stepped up.
"They had a good game the whole game. It's been like that the whole year with our defense. Those guys are guys we can count on. We know we can fall on our defense if we have a turnover, we know they're going to be ready. It's a testament to how they get ready during the week. They really work hard in their film sessions before and after every practice."
Stevenson kept its foot on the gas in the second half, scoring twice in the third quarter (on a 34-yard fumble recovery by linebacker Lucas Wax and a 27-yard run by Jack Joseph) and at the beginning of the fourth quarter on an 18-yard field goal by Mike Gambino.
New Trier finally got in the end zone in the final minute when back-up quarterback Will McCain hit Scott Hammes for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
"We were just a little off early (on offense), but our defense stepped up big," said Stevenson coach Bill McNamara, who won the 50th game of his five-year tenure at Stevenson. "We had some turnovers but they held strong and kept us in the game.
"We're going to enjoy this one for a little bit. When you get a quarterfinal win, it's something special. But next week, we'll go into Glenbard (West) for the semifinals and they're a state championship-caliber team. We're a state championship-caliber team. It's going to be a war next week. This is something our kids worked for all year."
Last year, the Patriots lost a heartbreaker in the Class 8A semifinals in the final seconds to Loyola, 15-14. Stevenson has played in one state championship game, a loss in 2002 to Lockport.