Libertyille hoping to end rivalry skid against Stevenson
Anecdotally, the rivalry is strong.
For years, high school football fans in both Lincolnshire and Libertyville, and throughout much of Lake County, have gotten up for the annual Stevenson-Libertyville game, which features two of the most successful programs in the area.
Big, boisterous crowds are typical. The electricity in the air is palpable. Last year, for a 34-14 Stevenson victory at Libertyville, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and his kids were on hand, walking the sidelines.
But on paper, Libertyville has some work to do in this rivalry. The Wildcats have lost six straight games to Stevenson. Their last win in the series was in 2008.
Libertyville will get its chance to stop that dubious streak at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Stevenson.
The 4-0 Wildcats feature one of the most dynamic players in the state in quarterback Riley Lees and can't wait to sink their teeth into the defending Class 8A state champions, who are 3-1.
"They've had our number for a few years now," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said of Stevenson. "I don't know if (the intensity of the rivalry) is there for them, but it is for us. We need to do whatever we can to get this thing back in our favor."
For the record, the Patriots haven't lost sight of the importance of this North Suburban Conference rivalry game with Libertyville. It's circled on their calendar, too.
"Every year, our game with Libertyville is a war," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "We expect a playoff-like atmosphere with a playoff-like game. This is a battle of two heavyweights."
The generals on each side are the quarterbacks, Lees of Libertyville and Jack Sorenson of Stevenson. Lees is a Northwestern recruit and two-year starter under center and Sorenson is a versatile athlete who was one of Stevenson's top wide receivers during last year's state title run.
Sorenson is coming off a near 300-yard game in a 20-7 win over Wauconda last week. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns, one to each of the Marchese brothers, Henry and Mike. He also ran for 73 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm really impressed with Sorenson," Jones said. "He throws really well on the run and he's got big-play capability."
So, of course, does Lees, who is known for his uncanny ability to routinely scramble his way from nothing to something.
Lees put up insane numbers last season: 3,281 all-purpose yards and 45 touchdowns. He is coming off a 274-yard game in a 42-7 win over Lake Forest last week in which he passed for 2 touchdowns and ran for 2 touchdowns.
"I am not sure you can ever stop Riley," McNamara said of Lees. "He is a very dynamic player. When you watch him on film, he has some crazy runs. Riley has evolved as a passer but his running is what scares you."
The Wildcats also feature a bruising rusher in Noah Moderwell, who ran for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns last week. He rushed for a season-high 160 yards against Zion-Benton in Week 3.
"There's a reason why Libertyville is 4-0," McNamara said. "Offensively, everything goes through Lees, but his surrounding cast in Moderwell and a big offensive line and solid wide receivers is very good. They are also senior heavy with 11 senior starters on offense and 8 seniors on defense."
Libertyville's defense, which has been particularly stingy and is allowing just 8.8 points per game, is led by linebacker Riley Buncic, a transfer from Carmel. Meanwhile, nose guard Connor Santini is the leader of the Stevenson defense, which had its most efficient game of the season last week in holding Wauconda to a single touchdown.
Both defenses will be striving to keep two explosive offenses off the field.
"It's Friday night lights," McNamara said. "Every fan will be treated to a great high school football game. The atmosphere will be electric."