Round Lake's rally falls short in 'home' opener
On a football field not far from where he grew up, Amundsen football coach Nick Olson pointed to a couple of buddies who came out to watch his Vikings play in Lake County on Saturday.
The shout-outs included a friend who attended a conference-rival school.
"So forget him," Olson joked.
Call it a homecoming Olson won't soon forget. His visiting Vikings escaped with a 30-29 win over his alma mater, Round Lake, in a nonconference season opener that was played at Grayslake Central because Round Lake's renovated stadium is not yet completed.
"I think this game maybe meant more to him than it did to us," Amundsen junior quarterback Elisha Morris said with a smile of Olson, who graduated from Round Lake in 2010.
When Morris escaped the pocket and dashed 65 yards into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game late in the third quarter, Amundsen led 30-7. But then Round Lake, which had been silent since opening the game with a 65-yard drive that Dominick Tovar capped with an 18-yard TD run, found another gear.
Quarterback Isaiah Nixon busted off a 52-yard touchdown run to get the Panthers within 30-13 entering the fourth.
On Round Lake's next possession, Nixon scored from 6 yards out to cap an 11-play, 62-yard drive. The Panthers scored again on their next series thanks to sophomore Jamariel Brown's 84-yard TD catch from Nixon. Brown grabbed the ball with his left hand, juggled it briefly, secured it with his right and raced down the left sideline, getting the Panthers within one point with 3:36 left in the fourth.
"He was cramping up a little bit and fighting through a few things," Round Lake coach Scott Blecha, who was making his head-coaching debut, said of Brown. "He was maybe a half-step short (on the route), but he turned it on when he needed to and made a big play. He's going to be a big contributor for us this year."
Round Lake never got the ball back, however, as Amundsen picked up a pair of first downs. Morris' 16-yard throw to Malcolm Clark on third-and-14 from the Round Lake 45 with a minute left sealed the Vikings' third-straight season-opening win.
"We started to get tired but we pulled together at the end," said Morris, who also had TD runs of 21 and 5 yards. "We need to keep the same momentum the entire game, instead of being on and off."
Morris rushed for 143 yards on 14 carries and also threw a 19-yard TD pass to Clark. Isaiah Morris, Elisha's older brother, gained 153 yards on 18 carries. He had a 65-yard touchdown run.
"We're going to keep our heads up," said Isaiah Morris, who was a sophomore on the Amundsen team that lost at Round Lake, 42-14, two years ago. "We're going stay humble, we're going keep working at practice, and we're going to get better."
"I just think we lost focus and discipline (after going up 30-7)," said Olson, whose Vikings got a pair of sacks from Daveion Hightie. "We were the underdogs going in based on the last game we played."
Nixon finished with a team-high 86 rushing yards on 10 carries and also threw for 183 yards on 8-of-19 passing. Tovar rushed 11 times for 72 yards.
"Started well, ended well. The problem was everything in between," Blecha said. "I told the guys that I was really proud of them for the way they came back. The problem is, we made too many mental mistakes in the middle."