LIBERTYVILLE — Friday’s North Suburban Lake football showdown between Libertyville and Stevenson won’t be your average regular-season finale.
Though there won’t be an outright division title at stake when the Wildcats (6-2, 3-2) host the unbeaten Patriots (8-0, 5-0), make no mistake: This will be a game that matters a ton to Libertyville.
“This game means a lot not only because of the huge rivalry, but because it’s the last game before the playoffs, and with a win it would give us so much momentum going into the postseason, which we need,” Libertyville senior running back Sean Ferraro said.
Stevenson is ranked No. 1 both in both the Sun-Times’ Super 25 and the latest Associated Press Class 8A poll. Libertyville and Stevenson are also heated rivals.
“A 7-2 record and a ‘W’ against the No. 1 team in the state is a much better résumé than a 6-3 record with three conference losses,” Ferraro said. “So this game is unbelievably important [for potential] success in the postseason, and it will be great if we can upset [Stevenson] for our last regular-season home game.”
The Wildcats are riding a three-game winning streak, having beaten Zion-Benton in Week 6, Mundelein in Week 7 and North Chicago last Friday. But Stevenson is significantly deeper and more balanced than those three schools. The learning curve for Libertyville could be swift and unforgiving.
No additional motivation is needed, according to Wildcats coach Mike Jones.
“This week we have a much bigger challenge in front of us,” Jones said. “This is a huge rivalry to begin with, and mentally, I don’t think our players will need me to do a whole lot to get them fired up for this one. Our job [as coaches] will be to have a physical, demanding week of practice leading up to Friday. We’ll have to be well-prepared, for sure, and a lot of our team’s focus against Stevenson will be on maintaining proper technique every down, at every position.
“One reason why this game matters so much is because as a team, we’ve discussed how important gaining momentum can be. Prior to playing North Chicago, we talked about always having something to play for, regardless of who the opponent is. We made the playoffs by beating them for our sixth win, and removed any doubt from the equation so we didn’t have to rely on our playoff point total.”
Libertyville has an intriguing résumé. The Wildcats have scored 298 points, more than any team in their division, and have key road wins at Lake Zurich and Palatine. Their two losses were on the road against Lake Forest and Warren.
Libertyville junior tight end Hunter Reimers said team unity in the face of adversity could be the most important factor in any potential upset.
“The biggest factor for us [to beat Stevenson] would have to be the ability for our team to pick each other up on both sides of the ball,” Reimers said. “If the offense or defense has a bad series, we know that the opposite side of the ball will be there to get the job done, so the team can move on and not have any mid-game hiccups.”
The outcome could have major playoff-seeding implications for both clubs.
“I think we could be a team that makes noise in the playoffs, sure,” Jones said. “But if you look at the past, many teams’ postseason success has to do with who they draw once teams are seeded. Stevenson will be a great barometer for where our football team stands. It helps to be playing the top-ranked team in the state the final week of the regular season, prior to the playoffs. Obviously we didn’t plan it that way, but it’s just how it worked out.”