'It's a pleasure even to be playing': Glenbrook North closes out football season
Extremely simplified, Friday's Deerfield-Glenbrook North football game typified not only how the COVID-19 pandemic shaped the delayed, shortened season, but how it affected us all.
There was good, and there was bad.
In Deerfield's season-ending 18-3 Central Suburban League crossover win in Northbrook, Warriors' senior receiver Zach Pomerantz scored his first 2 varsity touchdowns. Junior Luke Jones displayed the athleticism that will make him a gamebreaker again next season.
Glenbrook North's defense strengthened as the game went on. Linemen Matt Karis and Jackson Carsello wore their blockers out, linebacker Nate Glazebrook was a load and Mike Sutker blocked a punt.
But also, everyone in Glenbrook North's stadium watched solemnly, silently for nearly half an hour after Spartans quarterback Avery Burow took a hit and remained prostrate on the field before being placed on a stretcher and leaving in an ambulance.
Falling backward under the Deerfield pass rush on the first play of the third quarter, Burow's head struck the turf as he was taken down, Glenbrook North coach Matt Purdy explained after the game.
On Sunday, Purdy said Burow had been diagnosed with a concussion and slight bruising, and "will be OK."
After Burow went down, the Spartans were held to 2 first downs in the second half. A converted receiver, Burow had taken the quarterback position after the January death of returning starter Dylan Buckner.
"He's basically our entire offense," said Glenbrook North senior receiver Zach Mendo. "He's kept so many plays alive this year, most of our bigger plays are him rolling out while getting chased by four guys and just chucking the ball up. After he went down, I don't even know how to explain it, it was just different."
Different, this season was.
"It's very special considering we actually got to play this year after all the obstacles we had to overcome with the pandemic and Dylan. It's a pleasure even to be playing, really," Carsello said.
"It was very, very odd but it was historic, and these kids responded historically," said Deerfield coach Steve Winiecki. "It took a lot, but I couldn't be more proud of these guys -- and I couldn't be more proud of Glenbrook North. Just everything that we've had to go through to get to this spot. Look around here, nobody wants to leave. And that's what football means. Nobody wants to leave."
For a long time Mendo knelt near midfield, staring downfield toward the still-lit scoreboard, sometimes joined by teammates, sometimes alone in thought.
"During quarantine we were on this field five days a week, just like hidden from everyone because you're not technically allowed to be on the field. And we'd just put in the work for hours a day," he said.
"Every single time I stepped on this field that's what I was thinking about, and this feels like it's all gone now, and it's just back to another new world."
Deerfield (5-1) achieved a team goal by scoring first. On the Warriors' second possession, easy-throwing quarterback Austin Layette sprinkled in receptions of 27, 14 and 11 yards.
At Glenbrook North's 5-yard line he zipped a quick hitter to Pomerantz in the left slot. The 5-foot-7 receiver hopped to avoid a tackle and scored. Jones' conversion run gave Deerfield an 8-0 lead at 3:49 of the first quarter.
"We were able to put together a good drive, get that score," Winiecki said. "We've been playing great defense all year. With our starting defense we've given up 27 points in six games, so we know that once we get a lead, even against very good teams, that we're able to control the tempo of the game."
Jones scored an apparent touchdown on a 65-yard punt return, but that was brought back by a penalty. Glenbrook North (2-4) countered with a defensive stand, then Burow passes to Quinn Clarke, Ryan Henschel and Dylan Yoss set up Michael Cosentino's 25-yard field goal. It cut Deerfield's lead to 8-3 at 10:25 of the second quarter.
The ever-present Jones intercepted a pass that led to Deerfield kicker Hudson Sherwood's 33-yard field goal for an 11-3 halftime lead.
An apparent Jones third-quarter touchdown catch was again negated by a penalty, but on the next play Deerfield sophomore Alex Fern -- himself filling in for the banged-up Layette -- threw to Pomerantz on a slant pattern for a 16-yard score. Sherwood made it an 18-3 game at 5:17 of the third quarter.
"It's like a storybook ending for me," Pomerantz said. "It's been awesome. We were running those same plays all year, it just happened to click in this last game, which is awesome. It's like it's meant to be."
There were a few times when a football season didn't seem meant to be. Making it happen was a victory, win or lose.
"It's unfortunate we finished up this way but they'll still be there for each other forever," Purdy said of his players. "They'll come back to the 25-year reunion and say, 'Remember our senior year of COVID and all the other stuff we went through?' I told them it'll make them better dads and better employees down the road.
"That's the great thing about sports. It's the ups and downs, but those are the things that make us the people we are."