CAROL STREAM — It was late in the first quarter of Stevenson’s 20-16 win over Glenbard North in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs Saturday.
Justin Jackson, Glenbard North’s star running back, had just broken off a 47-yard touchdown run, his second long touchdown scamper of the quarter. With the Patriots’ offense on the field, defensive coordinator Josh Hjorth huddled with his unit.
“I said, ‘I promise that ball is going to squirt out soon,’ ” Hjorth said, referring to Jackson’s recent issue with fumbles. “And it did.”
On the Panthers’ next possession, Jackson coughed the ball up in Patriots territory. Later, with Stevenson trailing 16-14 early in the fourth quarter, Jackson was hit while diving for extra yards at the Patriots’ 5-yard line. The ball popped out and was recovered by senior defensive back Sam Oriatti in the end zone. That takeaway (Stevenson had six in the game) prevented a likely Glenbard North touchdown, keeping the deficit at one score.
With 4:53 remaining in the game, Stevenson junior Cameron Green returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown, the points that accounted for the winning margin. The dramatic victory — Stevenson’s first in three consecutive playoff meetings with Glenbard North — catapulted the Patriots into the quarterfinal round.
“Coming out in the second half we said, ‘If we win the second half, we win this game,’ ” said Stevenson coach Bill McNamara, whose team trailed 14-7 at the break. “I’m so proud of the way our kids played, battled back.”
To have a chance to battle back, the Patriots had to contain Jackson. Going into the game, Hjorth hoped to prevent any runs of 25 yards or more. By halftime, Jackson had two (47 and 56). Stevenson missed the downhill, physical defensive presence provided by senior safety Matt Morrissey, who pulled a hamstring during a routine practice drill Nov. 6 and did not play.
“We knew coming into the game any lapses would make the difference. We came out a little slow,” senior linebacker Ryan Mass said. “We knew we had to bottle him [Jackson] up.”
An adjustment by Hjorth at halftime — putting speedy senior linebacker Itai Gerchikov and shifty junior lineman Nick Dillon on the edges — worked, and in the second half Jackson was not able to get past the first level of defense and into the open field.
His second-half totals — 12 carries, 72 yards (with the majority coming on one 47-yard run) — didn’t resemble his first-half numbers.
“We just got off our blocks and got in our holes and made sure he had no cut backs,” junior lineman Blake Drazner said.
Hjorth added, “We wanted to take first down away from him. We wanted at the most, 2 or 3 yards on first down.”
With Jackson stuffed, Glenbard North was forced to throw. A safety after a bad punt snap was all the scoring the Panthers generated during the final three quarters.
In 2011 and 2012, Stevenson drove away from Carol Stream heartbroken, its season ended at the hands of the Panthers. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
“The last two years, we’d see everyone in the locker room crying,” Drazner said. “Now, we get the win, it means so much.”