Glenbard West passes tough test against Lees, Libertyville
Riley Lees' legs got Libertyville to the state championship game for the first time in 11 years.
But getting a leg up on the No. 1-ranked Class 7A football team in the state required more than Lees' speed. That's what Wildcats head coach Mike Jones and his staff thought. So instead of a lot of Lees runs, we saw a lot Lees passes Saturday night.
Heck, the game plan nearly worked.
Libertyville's two-time all-state QB aired it out with 4 touchdown passes but 2 red-zone interceptions, as well, and Glenbard West won the battle of unbeatens, 34-28, at NIU's Huskie Stadium.
A remarkable run by Lees and his teammates.
A fun run.
"We knew we had to make plays in the passing game," Jones said. "They're very good against the run. We had to pick our opportunities to run Riley. (Running back) Noah (Moderwell) was healthy (after missing the state semifinal with a shoulder injury), so that made a big difference for us. (The offense) did a great job of executing what we wanted them to do."
Lees entered the game with 211 rushing attempts for 2,404 yards and 33 TDs. At halftime, he had 5 carries for 19 yards. He finished with 12 rushes for 51 yards, with a long of 9.
Afterward, surrounded by several of his happy players in a conference room inside NIU's Yordon Center, Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet was asked whether he expected Libertyville to throw the ball as much as it did.
"No ... I didn't," Hetlet said. "But with that being said, I'd much rather have that than (Lees) running around. I think they saw some things that we were giving them in our coverages that they took advantage of."
True, Libertyville's passing game was mostly effective, with Lees finishing 19 of 28 for 232 yards. But going back to his sophomore year on varsity, the kid with surfer hair has thrilled Libertyville fans with his freaky-fast legs, slick maneuvering and pure ability to make long gains out of nothing.
Spectacular TD runs often followed long drives by opponents.
Saturday, the strategy was different.
"Not really because our game plan coming in wasn't really me running a lot," Lees said. "It was more throwing. I'm not expecting to break a long run every play. You take what the defense gives you."
"We saw all week (on film) that their corners were playing off the line," said wide receiver Henry Schmidt, whose pair of TD catches gave him 14 for the season. "They were bailing out on the snap."
What happened to Libertyville was what happened to Libertyville opponents all season. The Wildcats got "Riley Lees'ed." With thick legs, a stiff arm, and wavy hair himself, Vandy-bound Sam Brodner rushed for 274 yards and 4 TDs.
"Twenty-eight points should be enough to win the ballgame," Wildcats all-state defensive end Ben Kimpler said. "I felt like it was all up to our defense, and I felt our defense couldn't do enough to stop that kid (Brodner). All credit to him. He's an unbelievable runner. He's an unbelievable player. Just look where he's going. He's going to an SEC school. That's not really known (for a player) from a northwest suburban town."
"He was a load coming through the line. That was obvious," linebacker Riley Buncic said of Brodner. "Our offense picked us up. It was a lot of keying (Brodner) a lot in the game, but he was tough to stop."
More than Libertyville's season ended. The cold reality on a cold night in DeKalb was that a special group of seniors finished what started about the last time Libertyville played in a game this big (a win over Cary-Grove in the 2004 state title game).
"All of us have been playing together since second grade," Lees said. "That's the hardest part, that this is our last game together."
"I'm sad that we couldn't get the deal done, but we played one heck of a game," Schmidt said. "I'm proud of every single guy that walked out on this field today. I'm proud of the way we worked all year. We left it all on the field."
How can anyone be unhappy about that?
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