Quick start, dominant finish propels Stevenson to semifinals

Quick start, dominant finish propels Stevenson to semifinals
November 23, 2013, 11:00 pm
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Mark Strotman

The Patriots knew storms were coming.

So they brought it to Barrington first.

Facing serious weather conditions that twice delayed Stevenson’s 8A quarterfinal contest against the Broncos for more than an hour, head coach Bill McNamara’s group raced out to a quick lead it did not surrender once the rains came in a 14-0 victory.

Both teams warmed up Saturday night as the temperatures cooled, with light rains and gusts of wind hampering pregame warm-ups. Footballs sailed over the heads of wide receivers, punts went into the air and, caught up in the wind, began travelling backwards, and players grabbed any and all towels they could find to stay dry.

But when Mike Gambino kicked off with the wind at his back — the Patriots won an all-important coin toss — the Patriots played their game to perfection.

After a Broncos punt, the Patriots rushed twice and used a defensive pass interference call to move inside Barrington territory on their first possession. On the next play, quarterback Willie Bourbon rolled out right and found junior wide receiver Cameron Green, who juked multiple defenders on his way to a 37-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

[DRIVE: Green, defense shine in win over Glenbard North]

Barrington’s Nick Coy botched the ensuing kickoff — which Gambino intentionally popped up into the air around the 30-yard-line — and safety James Mahoney wrestled the ball away to give the Patriots possession.

Seven plays later Bourbon threw a bullet to sophomore Jack Sorenson for a 12-yard score, giving the Patriots a 14-0 lead as the rain and winds began to pick up.

“It set the tone, McNamara said of the two first-quarter scores. “We had some keys to victory tonight, and one of them was to start fast, and we did. Our defense pinned their ears back and got us the ball and we got a couple quick strikes.”

The fast start was keyed by Stevenson playing with the wind. In the first quarter, Bourbon was 4-of-6 for 65 yards and two scores; Barrington quarterback Dan Kubiak was 1-of-7 for 19 yards and the Broncos accumulated just three first downs.

“Our coaches always preach, ‘Come out hot,’” Bourbon said. “So that’s exactly what we did. When you put the pressure on them to come back and score it’s big, especially with our defense playing great as of late.”

When the Broncos got their turn with the wind in the second quarter, defensive coordinator Josh Hjorth’s group stepped up, highlighted by interceptions from linebacker Jason Vravick and Green – both also had interceptions against Glenbard North the previous week.

[DRIVE: Bourbon perfecting his craft as Patriots continue to roll]

As the teams jogged into their respective locker rooms at halftime, the skies opened up and the Thor Guard system went off, signaling lightning in the area and the first delay of the evening. The Patriots stayed loose in the Broncos’ gymnasium, making halftime adjustments and sitting together as positional groups to remain focused after a dominant first half.

And just three minutes into the third quarter — running back Jack Joseph fumbled on the Patriots’ first play of the third quarter but Hjorth’s defense held — a Barrington official relayed that a second batch of storms were coming, meaning yet another delay and a potential evening of the playing fields as the Patriots’ momentum died down.

That worried McNamara.

“They had the wind, they had the rain. We were fighting for first downs, and it was sloppy at that time,” he said. “But the conditions dictated that. We endured that third quarter and once we had the wind in the fourth quarter I felt a little more comfortable.”

The Broncos’ field position in the third quarter was for naught, as they twice failed on fourth-down attempts and punted on their other two drives.

And at the forefront of that continued defensive surge was Vravick. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker was in the backfield all night, reading counters, pressuring Kubiak and dropping into coverage to man the middle of the field.

It’s tough to overcome, but it happens,” Vravick said of the rain delays. “You can’t do anything about it. You’ve just got to rally back and you can’t lose any energy. You just have to come out firing. It can’t be a drop-off. Every second you have the opportunity, just work. Nothing’s going to be given to you.”

[DRIVE: Patriots walk, then run to conference championship]

As well as he has played defensively, his most important production has been at center. In the season opener, the Patriots had eight second-half turnovers, due in large part to problems at center after starter Henry Sise suffered a broken leg early in the third quarter.

That meant plugging Vravick — who was Bourbon’s center in seventh grade — in to man the offensive line, and the Stevenson run offense has been rolling ever since. A run-heavy drive in the fourth quarter lasted nearly six minutes to put the game away, and most of those runs went behind Vravick inside.

“The way he runs around on the field and anchors our offensive line, he was filling holes at middle linebacker today, he had an unbelievable game,” McNamara said. “I’m so proud of him and what he’s done for our team. He’s a big reason we’re here.”

The Patriots have reeled off 10 straight wins after two losses to begin the season, but now a test against No. 1 seed Loyola awaits them at home.

But McNamara’s players never felt sorry for themselves and didn’t let distractions get in the way of accomplishing what they wanted. They’ll need to do that again on Saturday when the Ramblers visit Lincolnshire, but they’ll do so as a team with momentum and the utmost confidence.

“We were a little down because we weren’t playing like we were capable of playing,” McNamara said. “But I knew that we had a great team. We were not in panic mode by any means. We have very resilient kids, and it showed. To win big games like this against quality teams, it’s great to be in the semifinals."