Vernon Hills downs Grayslake North to finish undefeated

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 4/23/2021 11:13 PM

Vernon Hills football coach Bill Bellecomo and Grayslake North football coach Corey Atwell work at the same high school: Vernon Hills.

They had another thing in common this week: COVID-19 scrubbed their scheduled season finales. Vernon Hills was supposed to visit Niles North on Friday night, while Grayslake North was supposed to host Grayslake Central. Issues related to the coronavirus ended the Niles North and Grayslake Central seasons prematurely.


"I called Bill up at the school Thursday, and he was upset," Atwell, a drivers education teacher at Vernon Hills, said. "Then I told him, 'There's a team available to play your team. Its colors are black and gold. Wanna play us?"

Bellecomo, no longer upset, replied, "Yes!"

The coaches each exchanged two game films. Cram sessions ensued.

Their teams would clash Friday night at Grayslake North.

"Sleep?" Bellecomo said after 48 minutes of football. "I didn't get many hours."

But his Cougars had scored plenty of points to cap their truncated, 5-0 spring season with a 42-7 victory.

"We wanted to make a statement, and we did so with an exclamation point," a proud Bellecomo added. "We were flying to the ball in all phases. Our coaches, our players, all responded well in the little time we had to prepare.

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"It's a shame we won't get to play in playoff games, with a group as special as this one. But an undefeated season, in a half season, we'll take it."

Cougars senior running back Ryan Mann took the first handoff of the game and churned for a 62-yard touchdown. He would finish with 148 yards on 22 carries and another TD run, the second tally considerably shorter (1 yard) than the first to up Vernon Hills's lead to 27-0 with 2:47 left in the first half.

Grayslake North's Knights (4-2) found their rhythm offensively in the second half, mainly because sophomore quarterback Jacob Donohue found junior wideout Nathan Atwell (Corey's son) often. Donohue (27-for-37, 231 yards, TD) connected with Atwell 14 times, including a 7-yard TD at 9:22 of the third quarter.

Atwell amassed 14 receptions for 130 yards.

"We played a lot better in the second half because we had to play in a different, faster gear against such a good team," Corey Atwell said. "Our first five games, we were able to sit back and do damage that way. Not tonight; it was on-the-job-training, given we had about 12 hours to prepare."


Vernon Hills senior and Ball State-bound Justin Morris (2 catches, 73 yards) came down with an interception in the third quarter and caught a 60-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Ben Halley (3-for-6, 109 yards, TD), and junior Jake Pieper, who tossed a 35-yard halfback option pass to junior Erik Rimas (INT), rushed for a 3-yard TD.

Vernon Hills senior running back Jonathon Ford rushed only twice Friday night. But each carry resulted in a 2-yard TD burst.

Vernon Hills sparkled on defense, too, getting sacks from Vito Accettura, Max Accettura, Jackson Wiegold and Andrey Potarskiy.

"Best defense we saw this season," Corey Atwell said.

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