Vernon Hills shows its mettle against Bronzeville
The chip is still there.
As in, the chip on the shoulder of every Vernon Hills football player.
About three years ago, Vernon Hills was unceremoniously left as the odd-man-out when its six peers from the Prairie Division of the North Suburban Conference decided to create a new conference, the Northern Lake County Conference, and add Grayslake Central and Grayslake North for an even eight teams.
That left Vernon Hills conference-less, until it was taken in by the Central Suburban League North.
Fast forward to this fall, the beginning of all the conference realignments, and little was expected out of the Cougars in their first football season in the CSL as the smallest school in the entire league.
The underappreciated Cougars didn't appreciate that much either, and used it as motivation all season. They came one game away from winning the CSL North, and boasted the best defense (as measured by fewest points allowed per game) in the entire league.
Vernon Hills continued its "let's show them" mentality on Saturday in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs. The Cougars ran over visiting Urban Prep Bronzeville 56-6, enacting a running clock for the entire second half.
Vernon Hills was up 42-0 by halftime.
"We definitely have a chip on our shoulder," said Vernon Hills senior quarterback Kyle Hull, who went a perfect 10-for-10 on his passes against Urban Prep. He finished with 164 yards and 2 touchdowns. "We felt a little disrespected getting kicked out of our old conference and then coming into the new one, we knew we had to prove ourselves, being such a small school.
"But we came out with that chip and that edge and motivation and we proved ourselves. It has motivated to do our best and reach our potential. I think we can go deep in the playoffs."
No. 7 Vernon Hills (7-3) advances to take on two-time defending state champion and 15th-seeded Nazareth Academy (6-4), which defeated No. 2 Chicago Goode, 46-6 in first round action. Urban Prep ends its season with a 6-4 record.
"We always play with a little bit of an edge, being a small school playing a lot of big schools," Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo said. "It gives us a lot of motivation. Our kids will play anyone anywhere. The psyche is there.
"But I would also say that playing a two-time defending champion next week should be all the motivation our kids need."
Vernon Hills wasted no time flexing its muscles against Urban Prep, scoring on its first possession (a 3-yard run by Drew Winegardner) and its remaining four possessions of the first half. The Cougars also scored on defense for good measure, a 5-yard fumble return for a touchdown by defensive back Luke Perlin.
Hull threw touchdowns to Nick Marras (33 yards) and Derek Jarrell (5 yards) and Winegardner threw a touchdown on the halfback-option to Jeff Rosenstock (8 yards). Marras also scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
"Our offensive line did a great job today. They gave me plenty of time. And our receivers were just getting open," Hull said. "I was just hitting them wide open."
Vernon Hills had 231 yards of offense and 14 first downs by halftime, compared to just 76 yards and 5 first downs for Urban Prep.
The defense, which allowed a CSL-low 14.2 points per game this season, returns nine starters from last year. It's been the anchor of the team this season.
"We've had a strong defense all season," said Vernon Hills linebacker Trey Hommer, who was in on a couple of quarterback sacks. "A lot of us have started since our sophomore year so there's a lot of experience on our defense. We fly around and we created chaos."
Urban Prep sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Spencer can vouch for that. He was sacked seven times and finished with negative-49 rushing yards. He did complete 6-of-11 passes for 89 yards.
"It was tough (to move the ball). We couldn't execute well," said Spencer, calling Vernon Hills the toughest defense his team faced all season. "We couldn't pick up the blitz."
In the second half, backup quarterback Derek Jarrell scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter to give Vernon Hills a 49-0 advantage and then Jarrell found Quinn Geren for a 35-yard touchdown pass five minutes into the fourth quarter for a 56-0 lead.
Urban Prep finally got on the board with about two minutes left in the game when Howard Brookins scored on a 58-yard run.
"Football is a game where you have to play on every drive, every play," Urban Prep coach Michael Willis said. "I think we were a little flat today."