Football notes: Hot start suits Stevenson
The pregame challenge was to start fast and hard. Right out of the gate.
"We wanted the kids to come out with excitement and enthusiasm," Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth said. "We wanted them to start hot."
Of course, that was bound to happen anyway. On an unseasonably warm night in which the kick-off temperature was in the upper 80s, nearly every Stevenson player was hot. Ditto for every Zion-Benton player. Quite literally.
But the Patriots' play on the field matched the hot steamy air and that translated into a big victory. Stevenson rolled up a 41-7 win at Zion-Benton to move to 4-1 on the season and 3-0 in the North Suburban Conference.
Stevenson and Lake Zurich (5-0 overall) remain the only unbeaten teams in NSC league play. The teams will face each other in two weeks. Lake Zurich is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 7A and Stevenson is the first team receiving votes outside of the Top 10 in Class 8A.
"The heat kind of took a toll on everyone and we were up there playing on grass and I think that will be the only time that we'll play on grass all season, and that has a different feel," Hjorth said of Friday's game at Zion-Benton. "But overall, I think we did some nice things.
"We forced a fumble on Zion-Benton's first series and weren't able to capitalize," Hjorth said. "Our defense stopped them again and when we got the ball back, we started scoring."
And scoring and scoring and scoring.
Stevenson scored all 41 of its points before halftime. And for that matter, Zion-Benton scored its only touchdown before the break. There were no points scored by either team in the second half.
Sophomore running back Jean-Marc Etienne rushed for 2 touchdowns, quarterback Grayson Kubow rushed for 2 touchdowns and also threw for 2 touchdowns, both to Tyler Porzycki.
The Patriots rolled up more than 400 yards of offense, including 240 yards through the air. Kubow spread out the touches to five different receivers -- Porzycki, Alex Capstick, Connor Friesen, Sam Farber and Eli Fishbein.
"I thought Grayson showed some great senior leadership and did a great job of doing one of the biggest things we ask of him and that's getting the ball to a lot of different guys.
"I think Grayson has really settled in. This is a grind time of the year when a lot of people lose focus, and he has become sharper. He's making the proper reads and is really understanding what's going on. Each week he's gained more confidence and more of a swagger."
Super sophomore: On Friday night, Jean-Marc (nicknamed J-M) Etienne was focusing on his present.
The sophomore running back scored 2 touchdowns to help Stevenson get a 41-7 win over Zion-Benton.
On Saturday, Etienne was focused on his future.
He trekked to Iowa City to take in the Penn State at Iowa game. He was invited there by the Iowa coaching staff, which, like many other Big Ten coaching staffs, is hot on the heels of the super sophomore.
"We think J-M is pretty special," Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth said. "As coaches, we've known about him since seventh grade. He's got a lot of physical tools."
As a freshman, Etienne was the lead running back for Stevenson's sophomore team, rushing for more than 1,000 yards on the season. This year, he's averaging more than 100 yards per game and scores at least 1 or 2 touchdowns a game.
But his first game of the season was the one that put him on multiple radars.
"Against Palatine, he had this touchdown run for like 55 or 60 yards that was pretty impressive," Hjorth said. "It was picked up everywhere. MaxPreps made it one of their highlights of the week and it was retweeted all over the place and put all over social media. People took notice of J-M and he's been getting a lot of (college) attention ever since."
Hjorth says that Etienne has been handling the attention just fine, since one of his best traits was already a strong maturity for his age.
And yet, at the same time, a youthful exurberance is also one of Etienne's best qualities.
"J-M just has this big smile that completely lights up a room," Hjorth said. "He's such a great kid and he loves football. He's like an 8-year-old who goes to Great America for the first time. That's how exicted he always is about football."
Sticker shock: A new Stevenson football record was set on Friday.
A sticker record.
After each game, head coach Josh Hjorth hands out stickers to his players for big plays: touchdowns, key tackles, sacks, key catches, you name it.
The most stickers he's ever handed out to one player after a single game was six. Until Friday at Zion-Benton, where the Patriots got a 41-7 win.
Linebacker Maema Njongmeta earned 7 stickers as part of a stellar performance that included 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
"He is just shining," Hjorth said of Njongmeta. "He's a new budding star, and he's in only his second year of football. Maema is averaging 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss per game. It's incredible."
Tough and even tougher: A 21-7 loss to North Chicago on Friday night certainly wasn't easy to swallow for the winless Wauconda football team (0-5, 0-3 Northern Lake County Conference).
But what was even tougher was what the Bulldogs had to deal with earlier in the day on Friday.
That's when they went to the wake of assistant coach Joe Ryback, who died last weekend just hours after coaching in Wauconda's loss at Lakes.
Ryback was the head JV coach and the outside linebackers coach at Wauconda. His funeral was Saturday morning.
"In coaching, you're always talking about how sports can teach kids life lessons. Well, we are living a life lesson right now," Wauconda head coach Dave Mills said. "You can't prep for something like this. But what we've been telling the kids is that when adversity hits, you have two choices. You can either give in or take steps forward to work through it.
"We need to start taking some of those steps."
Mills saw some signs of that early in Friday's game against North Chicago, just hours after the wake.
"I think we were playing inspired for awhile," Mills said. "But I think the day's events eventually hit them. When North Chicago made some big plays, it was tougher and tougher for us to come back."
To give his players some distance from the tough events of the weekend, Mills cancelled Saturday's practice for the players and the coaches.
"We need to take a step back," Mills said. "We need to breathe a little bit."
Big play back-breakers: The Wauconda defense has had trouble with big plays all season, and Friday against North Chicago was no expection.
North Chicago scored all three of its touchdowns on big plays -- a 60-yard pass, a 55-yard run and a 40-yard pass.
"I thought our defense played pretty well outside of like four plays the entire game," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "But giving up big plays is a thing we've had all year. We gave up big plays to (Lakes running back) Ethan Greenfield last week and he scored 5 touchdowns on us. When that happens, the game just gets away from you."