Stevenson wins first for Becker but loses quarterback
It wasn't how Brent Becker envisioned winning his first game as Stevenson's head football coach. It wasn't how Liam Crawley envisioned his home debut as varsity quarterback.
But that's football, and Justin Hiller watching the second half of Stevenson's 24-6 win over visiting Libertyville on the sideline with his right arm in a sling was enough to temper the Patriots' enthusiasm Friday night.
Stevenson's victory in the North Suburban Conference opener marked Becker's first in his third game as head coach after serving as a Patriots assistant coach since 2012. Hiller, a 6-foot-1 senior and first-year starting QB, suffered an apparent shoulder injury after gaining 11 yards on a keeper in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
"If it's an injury for Justin, I'm just heartbroken for that kid," Becker said. "Senior. He's worked so hard. He was a captain for us tonight. Our fingers are crossed, hoping for the best."
Enter Crawley, a 6-2 junior who was in a tight battle with Hiller for the starting job going into August practice.
"Justin's a great kid," Crawley said. "I know how hard he's worked for that (starting job)."
After Hiller (5-of-7 passing, 50 yards, 2 interceptions) went out of the game with Stevenson leading 7-0 on JM Etienne's 85-yard touchdown run, Crawley marched the Patriots downfield. His 18-yard TD pass to Jordan Vincent capped a 10-play, 58-yard drive for a 14-0 advantage with 9:19 to go before halftime.
"I've been thinking about that moment for so long," Crawley said. "It all happened before my eyes. The adrenaline was crazy."
Crawley completed his first eight passes and finished 13 of 17 for 122 yards and no turnovers.
"I'm just so proud of Liam," Becker said. "He stepped up and did a great job."
So did Stevenson's defense, which held Libertyville (1-2) to 47 yards rushing. Running back Shaun Luce (18 carries, 42 yards) scored the Wildcats' only touchdown.
Stevenson (1-2) had not started a season by losing its first two games since 2013.
"Our mind set was just winning," said Patriots senior linebacker Michael Youkhanna, who's a cousin of fellow Stevenson senior linebacker Brandon Youkhanna. "We got to come out here, dominate, do our job. We cannot play to not lose. We got to play to dominate. That's just it. Our whole team had that mind set."
Youkhanna had 2 of Stevenson's 3 interceptions against Blake Ellingson. Jaden Mojica had the other (his second in as many weeks). Ellingson, Libertyville's 6-2 junior, completed 11 of 21 passes for 190 yards.
"He's a great player," Youkhanna said. "We just had a bunch of guys keying him, and we let our athletes play."
"They're a talented team," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said of the Patriots. "They got a lot of good athletes."
Libertyville has its share too. The Wildcats got interceptions from Domenic Tarello and Will Murphy, and while Etienne rushed for a season-high 157 yards, take away his long TD run and Libertyville's defense held the three-year varsity running back to 72 yards on 22 carries. The Wildcats tackled Etienne behind the line of scrimmage five times.
Vincent's 32-yard TD run in the fourth quarter finished the scoring.
"We did better, but all it takes is a couple of plays that break," Jones said. "That's what happened on (Etienne's 85-yard) run. And the other (TD) run (by Vincent) we just weren't physical enough."
Vincent finished with 7 receptions for 82 yards. Matthew Spilotro kicked a 26-yard field goal and went 3 for 3 on PAT kicks.
"It's certainly a relief for our program, our kids, our coaches, our staff," Becker said. "It was a great win tonight."