Lake Zurich dumps Stevenson in OT thriller
Who doubts a team that went undefeated in the regular season last year and played in a state championship game?
No doubt about it Friday night then. Lake Zurich, a week after losing at home to Lake Forest, traveled to Lincolnshire and pulled off a stunner itself, spoiling Stevenson's homecoming in front of a packed house. Tommy Vages' 5-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted Lake Zurich to a 23-20 win, after the visitors scored in the final minute to force extra time.
"I guess the word on the street that Lake Zurich is dead may not be true, right?" said Luke Mertens, coach of the defending Class 7A state runner-up Bears. "Look, we knew coming into this year that we were going to see everyone's best effort, and people have been outplaying us. Football's a simple game, and we still made the same mistakes today that we've been making all year."
Friday night was different, however. The Bears made plays, as they improved to 3-2 and 2-1 in the North Suburban Conference, while dropping Stevenson (4-1, 2-1) from the unbeaten ranks.
Bears quarterback Matt McGraw and wide receiver James Piggott both played their best games of the season and, fittingly, it was the duo that hooked up on the tying touchdown with 25 seconds left in the fourth. On fourth-and-goal from the 9, McGraw hit Piggott in the end zone.
"We called slant," Piggott said. "The corner was playing outside, three steps. I got inside of him and Matt threw a perfect ball."
McGraw finished 17 of 24 for 225 yards and 2 TD passes to Piggott, who caught 8 passes for 131 yards. Piggott made a juggling catch in the left corner of the end zone, with a defender draped on him, to even the score at 10-10 with 53 seconds left in the first half.
"We told the whole team that guys we expect to make plays need to start making plays," Mertens said. "James is one of those guys, and he made plays today."
Stevenson, which got 106 rushing yards and a touchdown from JeanMarc Etienne, took a 17-10 lead early in the third quarter thanks to miscue by Lake Zurich, which didn't execute a clean snap on a punt from deep in its own territory. On the next play, Patriots QB Cole Okmin (9-of-16 passing, 108 yards) threw a 7-yard TD pass to Sam Farber.
Lake Zurich responded with a 10-play drive to the Stevenson 23, but linebacker Maema Njongmeta forced a McGraw fumble, and Michael D'Angelo recovered for the Patriots.
Lake Zurich kept coming after its defense held. A 16-play drive for the Bears stalled at the 1 thanks to a goal-line stand by the Stevenson defense midway through the fourth quarter.
Lake Zurich wouldn't be denied again, however, as McGraw's tying TD pass to Piggott capped a 9-play, 35-yard drive.
"There were a lot of ups and downs with our defense," said Njongmeta, who also had 2 sacks. "But we have something special at Stevenson, and I think this is going to be a learning experience for the younger guys. (The loss) hurts, but I'm not worried about us as a team at all."
Stevenson got the ball first in OT and settled for a 23-yard field goal by John Greenbury, who drilled a 23-yarder in the second quarter, as well. Vages (17 carries, 72 yards) scored the game-winner on third down.
"Last week stung," Piggott said of the Lake Forest loss. "We just wanted to come out and get a win."