Vernon Hills turns back Grayslake North
With temperatures hitting 90-plus degrees throughout the week, concerns about the heat index delayed the start of Friday's season opener between Vernon Hills and Grayslake North.
But neither team was put on ice once kickoff finally came, as 3 touchdowns were scored between them in the first four minutes alone.
Vernon Hills heated up at the end, too, rallying from a 1-point deficit to go-ahead with four minutes left. The visiting Cougars also made a clutch defensive play late to hold on and post a 21-14 nonconference victory.
The win is the second in a row for Vernon Hills over Grayslake North. Last spring in the season finale, the Cougars rolled Grayslake North 42-7 in a battle of two of the top teams in Lake County.
Vernon Hills finished last spring undefeated (5-0) and won the Central Suburban League North. Grayslake North was 4-2 last spring and in contention for the Northern Lake County Conference title.
As he did last year, wide receiver Jake Pieper provided a highlight reel of big plays for Vernon Hills.
Pieper, a senior, scored the Cougars' winning touchdown with 4:05 remaining on a 6-yard touchdown run and then he single-handedly halted a Grayslake North drive in the final minutes by intercepting a pass by Knights' junior quarterback Jacob Donohue.
Donohue passed for nearly 200 yards, but that was his third interception of the game.
Junior running back Ben Choi also had a big night for Vernon Hills. He put the visitors on the scoreboard twice right out of the gate by scoring back-to-back touchdowns over the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game.
Choi (122 yards) ran in a 3-yard touchdown and a 17-yard touchdown, the second of which game after an interception of Donohue, to give Vernon Hills a 13-0 lead with 8:36 left in the first quarter.
The Knights then heated up themselves and scored 14 unanswered points to take a 14-13 lead at the halftime break.
Grayslake North junior DeAndre Neely returned the kickoff after Choi's second touchdown for a 75-yard touchdown.
Then, on the first drive of the second quarter, Donohue found senior wide receiver Ryan Page for a 25-yard touchdown strike.
Donohue's top target of the night was senior wide receiver Nathan Atwell, who hauled in 8 passes for 98 yards.
Grayslake North head coach Corey Atwell, who used to coach at Vernon Hills, was not on the sidelines as he was serving out a suspension from last season.
Andy Strahan handled head coaching duties.