Stevenson waits out win at Neuqua Valley

 
By Chris Traczek
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 9/1/2018 1:03 AM
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Patience truly needed to be a virtue for the Stevenson football team on Friday night.

The Patriots had to endure a lengthy bus ride from Lincolnshire to Naperville, a 73-minute lightning delay and an early score from Neuqua Valley. The waits proved to be more than worth it, however, as they roared back to post a 23-15 nonconference victory.

"It's always worth the wait when it works out that way," said Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth with a chuckle. "It's a tribute to our seniors and all our kids. They could have fallen asleep during the delay, but they came out and gave it all they had."

It was also worth it for Patriots junior running back J.M. Etienne to wait until the fourth quarter arrived. With the game still hanging in the balance, he notched 11 clock-draining carries for 114 yards to finish with a game-high 191 yards on 29 rushes.

"The game plan was to spread the ball around a bit and then tell J.M. in the fourth quarter that it's all him," Hjorth said. "He's a nice guy to have. He looks like he's getting stopped and then he makes a little juke and all of a sudden he's got 5 or 8 yards."

Early on, it was Neuqua sophomore running back Armani Moreno who played the role of workhorse as he carried 6 times on the Wildcats' opening drive, with the final tote resulting in a 1-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead. Moreno was getting the bulk of the work because leading rusher Will Chevalier was attending a U.S. junior national rugby camp.

"I really had to step it up for Will, and big credit to our line," said Moreno, who finished with 102 rushing yards. "I had to fill a role and I just did what I had to do."

After the quick score, though, the Patriots (2-0) did a good job slowing the Wildcats (1-1) attack, limiting them to less than 150 total yards over the game's final 40 minutes.

"We don't usually see a lot of I (formation) teams so we had to get used to pounding and grinding and I thought we did a good job defending it," Hjorth said.

The Patriots notched a key stop on Neuqua's second possession when they thwarted a fourth-and-3 play at their own 34, which eventually led to Cole Okmin's 31-yard TD toss to Ryan McElhinny. The Patriots took the lead for good on John Greenbury's 34-yard field goal on their next possession and ended the half with a 17-7 lead courtesy of Jon Kull's 1-yard run with a minute to go.

It appeared that Neuqua was ready to flip the momentum late in the third quarter when Jake Boumans intercepted an Okmin pass, but he fumbled during the return and Okmin outfought a Wildcats lineman for the ball to give possession back to the Patriots. Six plays later Okmin found Charlie Knezevic for a 35-yard scoring hookup that made it 23-7.

Moreno followed with a 5-yard run and 2-point conversion to make it a one-score game with 10 minutes to play, but Etienne's running and one last defensive stop clinched the win for the Patriots.

"We gave up an opportunity early with that fourth-down decision, but I thought it gave us a shot to keep the momentum on our side and I don't know if that cost us the game," said Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus. "They picked up a lot of big third downs, we had some big penalties and we just made too many mistakes."

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