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Moments after connecting on a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Matt Morrissey late in the third quarter, junior Willie Bourbon was met on the sidelines by the Stevenson medical staff, who wanted to take a look at the quarterback’s bloody right hand.
“It’s fine,” Bourbon told the trainers. “I can’t even feel it.”
The way he threw the ball, chances are that right hand heated up in no time.
Bourbon threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing, leading Stevenson to a 35-7 win over St. Charles East in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs.
“It was the adrenaline, one. But two, we scored so I’m happy. I don’t even think about this right here,” Bourbon said, pointing to his swollen, still bloody hand. “As long as we put points on the board and get the win, it doesn’t really matter what my body takes.”
Putting points on the board and winning is exactly what Bourbon has done over the last eight weeks. After an ugly 0-2 start in which Bourbon was intercepted six times, the second-year varsity starter has been surgical through the air, helping the Patriots to eight straight wins and a conference championship as they move one step closer to their ultimate goal.
Since Week 2, Bourbon has thrown for 17 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions and averaged 192.8 yards for a Stevenson team that ran the ball 60 percent of the time during the regular season.
And Bourbon has been part of that rushing attack, too. After running for 71 yards and no scores in the Patriots’ two losses, Bourbon has rushed for 330 yards on 123 carries and five touchdowns during the eight-game win streak.
And on Saturday, Bourbon was at his best when he needed to be.
After fumbling on a keeper inside the Saints’ red zone on the Patriots’ first drive, Bourbon led two straight scoring drives to give the Patriots an early 14-0 lead. On those drives, Bourbon converted all three third-down situations – two through the air and one on a 12-yard scramble – to keep drives alive before throwing touchdown passes to junior Cameron Green on a 7-yard corner-of-the-end-zone route and a 28-yard strike to Morrissey, who wrestled the ball out of a Saints defender’s hand for the score.
Morrissey finished with six receptions for 85 yards and two scores, and said the connection he has with his quarterback – who also happens to be a neighbor, car-pool partner and close friend – is really getting the Stevenson offense moving.
“All I can do is just run that perfect route, and he’s throwing a perfect ball,” said Morrissey, who now has a team-best 10 touchdown catches. “It’s feeling good right now and we’re hitting our stride. I’m excited about it.”
Added Bourbon, speaking about his top two targets: “It’s great. When you can put the ball, and you know that it may not be one of your best throws, and you know they’ll still go up and get it, it’s incredible. It’s a testament to how hard those guys work and they’re freaks; 6-foot-3, they can run like gazelles, it’s unbelievable.”
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It’s not a mystery why Bourbon, who also rushed for 52 yards in the win, was so dominant Saturday. In his second year under head coach Bill McNamara, Bourbon has enjoyed successes in the playoffs, throwing for 726 yards and seven touchdowns in three career postseason contests. It was that experience as a sophomore that has helped him stay within the moment and run the Patriots’ offense to near perfection.
“He’s been in big games before and he understands what we’re trying to accomplish,” McNamara said. “And that’s the great thing about him; it’s like having another coach on the field. And when he understands what we’re doing and he’s executing, our offense can be tough to stop.”
But that was only one side of the ball.
For as well as Bourbon and the offense has played, defensive coordinator Josh Hjorth has put together masterful game plans played out by a lightning-quick defense that has stymied offenses across the state all year.
Since allowing 28 points in a Week 2 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor, the defense has allowed just 9.3 points per game and no opponent has scored more than 17 points – and five times the opponent has scored seven or fewer points.
“We’re staying hungry. That’s our goal, to win conference but the goal is obviously to win every game from here on out and that just shows the hunger of our team,” linebacker Itai Gerchikov said. “We’re confident but we still have a lot to work on. We try to tighten the wrench and work every day to get better and better.”
Saturday the Saints turned the ball over three times and didn’t score until the fourth quarter, with the Patriots’ second-team defense on the field.
While the defense is lacking for emotional leaders, most of the success has come from players knowing their individual roles
“It’s really just guys stepping up,” said Morrissey, who picked off St. Charles East quarterback Jimmy Mitchell on the 1-yard-line in the first half. “It’s not a lot of rah-rah and getting on everybody because we know everyone on our team has the energy level and has the intensity, and guys are just stepping up.”
It’s really what has led the Patriots to this point. An 0-2 start could have crumbled their season. Down 17-0 in the first quarter to Lake Zurich, then the No. 2 team in the state, would have been a death sentence for most teams. But Stevenson has rallied around their seniors, their tireless coaching staff and put it all together to find themselves exactly where they want to be.
“The great thing is there’s a lot of professionalism, so to say, on an amateur football team. They know what’s on the line here, that winners play on and the losers are done for the season,” McNamara said. “And so they had a great week of practice and were very professional about their business, they had blinders on and they had a goal of winning this game.”