DRIVE: Adversity finds Stevenson early

DRIVE: Adversity finds Stevenson early
September 7, 2013, 12:15 am
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Mark Strotman

At one point in the second half of Stevenson’s 15-14 loss at Kenosha Indian Trail, quarterback Willie Bourbon, lined up in shotgun formation, found himself jumping in the air at the moment of the snap, anticipating yet another high toss from his backup center that led to three of the Patriots’ eight second-half turnovers last Friday night.

As ridiculous as Bourbon’s actions might sound, they were hardly unwarranted. After starting center Henry Sise suffered a broken leg early in the third quarter, the Patriots offense reached the lowest of lows a group as talented as this one could, mustering just 218 total yards. That number was lower than any single-game total last year and 137 yards fewer than their 2012 average (355.4).

It wasn’t the start the Patriots, ranked No. 8 in the state on EDGY Tim’s power rankings last week, were hoping for, falling to an Indian Trail team that went just 2-7 last year. More so than the loss, however, was the way it occurred. The physical mistakes were evident — eight turnovers — but the mental lapses irked Coach Bill McNamara even more.

“The smart teams are the ones that win; physical teams are ones that win,” he said. “But smart and physical teams are ones that win championships, and we’re looking to try and win championships. We’re not just trying to win random games here or there, so we’re always trying to educate them on the field, have them understand and put the physical with the mental.”

Before and after each game, McNamara asks his team to “take a moment for yourself,” a period in which the Patriots, on a knee, close their eyes and reflect on everything happening outside of football. It’s an important part of McNamara’s coaching regimen and something the team takes seriously.

[MORE DRIVE: Bourbon, Green hold special connection]

“We just hope that they think about their family,” McNamara said. “Think about the gift that they have, in terms of being able to play this great game of football, their health. It’s just a calm time to get their mind ready.”

Its added importance was felt Friday night as the team attempted to reflect after the painful loss without one of their brothers.

As tough as the loss was, the scoreboard was overshadowed by Sise’s exit early in the second half.

Running back Jack Joseph took a middle screen from Bourbon and traveled 16 yards for a first down. But at the end of the play, a defender rolled up on Sise, who was blocking downfield, and fractured his leg.

“I felt my leg get caught and twisted, and I felt it pop out and I fell to the ground. And the first thing I hear is someone yelling how bad it is,” the junior said, describing the play. “It happened so quick. I was just on the ground in disbelief, holding my leg. Our coaches told us the day before on how fast the season can end, and now I’m sitting there looking at, ‘When am I gonna be back and be able to play? What happened?’”

Sise had his leg put in an air cast and was wheeled off the field on a stretcher, giving a thumbs-up to the rest of his team before heading to the hospital. Five days later he was back at practice in a leg brace and crutches, providing the Patriots an uplifting presence.

“He’s one of us,” left tackle Zach Novolesky said. “He’s one of our brothers, so it kills me to see him go down, and obviously you saw the reaction on the field. It was kind of heartbreaking, but to see him back and upbeat, it just gets our team going to know that we’re all brothers and a family.”

[MORE: Accountability drives Stevenson success]

Sise has a doctor’s appointment next week where he’ll find out the final prognosis of his injury. Best-case scenario for now has him returning in eight weeks, the first round of the IHSA Playoffs, but until then he understands his role on the team will be to coach up his fellow offensive linemen, specifically the centers that struggled so much in Week 1.

“With the centers, I’m gonna walk them through kind of what I think about a play, make sure they know nothing can happen until you get that snap off,” Sise said. “Even if you miss a block, if that snap’s not there nothing else can work. Other than that, I know I’ve got to be that mental figure.”

He’ll need to tutor right away. Bourbon was credited Friday night with four fumbles, but three of those came on snaps over his head. Countless others were off-center, throwing off the Patriot offense’s timing for much of the disastrous second half.

The issues at center perplexed McNamara, who said the offensive line had only one or two bad snaps all training camp. As if replacing four of five players on the offensive line weren’t enough, moving forward without Sise makes it even more difficult.

The Patriots averaged less than two yards per carry, and, when the snaps were accurate, the offensive line gave Bourbon little time to find any rhythm — the junior threw three interceptions. To help fix the Patriots’ biggest issue, McNamara said practices this week devoted “hundreds of snaps” to figure things out. Sise was on hand to watch Wednesday afternoon, and he knows his team will right the ship without him.

“If I can bounce back,” Sise said, “the Patriots can bounce back.”