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What began about as well as head coach Bill McNamara and Stevenson could have hoped for Friday night in Wisconsin, ended just as poorly. The Patriots gave away a late lead and committed eight straight turnovers in the second half, culminating in a 15-14 loss at Kenosha Indian Trail.
Ranked No. 8 in CSN Chicago’s Edgy Tim’s preseason rankings, the Patriots (0-1) raced out to an impressive start against the Hawks (2-0), forcing a three-and-out on the game’s first possession. When they got the ball, they needed just two offensive plays to find the end zone on a 37-yard-pass to senior Matt Morrissey (2 catches, 50 yards) and a three-yard scoring run by Tim Vestuto (5 rushes, 29 yards).
Two possessions later, the Patriots extended their lead to 14-6 with a Ryan Mass touchdown run from inside the 1-yard-line. Quarterback Willie Bourbon again moved the Patriots down the field late in the second quarter, finding Vestuto and wide receiver Cameron Green through the air to move inside the Hawks’ 30-yard-line. But a pair of sacks, including one on fourth down, stalled the drive before halftime, a precursor of what was to come for the offense Bourbon described in training camp as “the Oregon of high school football.”
[DRIVE: Stevenson football]
Bourbon opened the second half with his first of three interceptions, and on the next possession was called for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety, cutting into Stevenson’s lead, 14-8.
The biggest play of the evening, however, won’t show up in any box scores.
Following a Sam Oriatti interception – one of three Stevenson interceptions – a well-executed screen pass to junior running back Jack Joseph picked up 16 yards to put the Patriots in opposing territory for the first time in the half. But during the play, center Henry Sise suffered a gruesome leg injury, which McNamara said after the game is likely a broken leg. Sise’s leg was stabilized in an aircast and he was taken off on a stretcher.
Sise’s departure presented a real issue for the short-handed Patriots’ offensive line. A bad snap on the first play post-injury resulted in Stevenson’s third straight turnover. Twice more, Bourbon watched the ball fly over his head on snaps, causing turnovers. There were countless other off-kilter snaps, forcing Bourbon to adjust and throwing off the timing of an offense based on exactly that.
Bourbon, who finished 9-for-23 with 171 yards, threw a pair of interceptions – one on a miscommunication over the middle and another with less than four minutes remaining – in between the misguided snaps to stall drives.
The Patriots defense played remarkably well for the number of poor situations its offense put it in. In eight second-half possessions, Indian Trail had an average starting field position of Stevenson’s 42, and just once did the Hawks begin a possession in their own territory. Of Stevenson’s eight turnovers, the Hawks scored just once, a 17-yard score by quarterback Zach Gianakos late in the third quarter to give them a 15-14 lead that held up.
The Patriots won’t have much time to figure out how to replace Sise, with a matchup against perennial powerhouse Homewood-Flossmoor up next. Last year the Vikings downed the Patriots, 35-27, at home.