'So close' goes Stevenson's way
When the football hit Jimmy Marchese in the hands, he quickly pulled it to his body and gently went to the ground.
Marchese risked nothing to make sure "so close" finally went Stevenson's way.
The senior linebacker's interception in the end zone with less than five seconds to play sealed the Patriots' 7-3 victory over Glenbard West in Saturday's Class 8A semifinals in Glen Ellyn, a win that sends Stevenson to the state title game for the second time overall and for the first time since 2002.
"Words can't really describe it," Marchese said. "What we're doing here, it's awesome. It just feels so great to move on."
Facing Saturday night's winner between Simeon and Homewood-Flossmoor at 7 p.m. next Saturday at Champaign's Memorial Stadium, the Patriots (13-0) will try to bring home the program's first state title. It's sweet redemption for Stevenson, which suffered a devastating 15-14 loss to Loyola in last season's 8A semifinals.
"If you keep knocking on the door, eventually you're going to knock it down," said Stevenson coach Bill McNamara. "We've been so close so many times. It was a matter of time."
Stevenson's defense carried the load for the bulk of the game, stopping the Hilltoppers (12-1) four times inside the 20-yard line. That included Marchese's end zone interception after Glenbard West stormed 64 yards in half a minute, but it also included the previous possession when the Patriots held on fourth-and-2 to take over at their own 12 with 3:06 left.
Quarterback Willie Bourbon, bouncing back from 3 of his 4 interceptions earlier in the quarter, marched his team 88 yards in 9 plays. Bourbon, who was 20 of 35 passes for 161 yards, completed 4 passes and ran for 19 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 8.
Back-to-back runs by Jack Joseph, who rushed for 46 yards on 13 carries, capped the drive when his 4-yard touchdown burst with 58.4 seconds left put the Patriots ahead 7-3.
"I try not to let that sneak into my head, four interceptions or whatever it was," Bourbon said. "I knew our defense was going to come through like they have all year, I trust those guys with my life. I tried not to let it affect me."
The fourth quarter was especially tense. In the first seven minutes there were 6 turnovers: 3 fumbles by Glenbard West and 3 interceptions by Stevenson.
Michael Darnall had 3 interceptions for the Hilltoppers, including one he took down to Stevenson's 7-yard line with just less than six minutes left. A penalty on the play, however, pushed Glenbard West back near midfield, and the offense again failed to convert the turnover into points.
Hilltoppers junior running back Sam Brodner, who finishes the season with 1,950 rushing yards, carried the ball 27 times for 110 tough yards, while quarterback Kyle Kramer -- whose 34-yard field goal put his team ahead 3-0 midway through the second quarter -- threw for 97 yards. Stevenson receiver Jack Sorenson caught 12 passes for 88 yards.
"It was a hard-fought game on both sides," Darnall said. "It's just a hard loss because our team played a great game. We just gave up one drive. It's just emotional to lose this way when we could have won that game."
Both teams had to overcome a bunch. In addition to turning the ball over four times, Stevenson committed 10 penalties for 130 yards. Unfortunately for Glenbard West, 5 turnovers and 87 penalty yards proved too costly.
The Hilltoppers were understandably heartbroken after the loss, but there was also tremendous pride in the program's fifth semifinal appearance in seven years.
"When you get to the semifinals five times and the state championship, if you don't win you're going to feel bad," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "That's how we feel right now. But I can't say enough about how the kids played."
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