LINCOLNSHIRE — In the week leading up to the Lake Forest football team’s NSC Lake opener against Stevenson Friday, coach Chuck Spagnoli took a rarely seen approach.
He did not downplay the game’s importance.
“This is the first conference game of our season. We have not put any water on the fire. If anything, we’ve stoked it,” Spagnoli said prior to the Scouts’ 34-17 loss.
For two and a half quarters, the strategy to amplify the contest’s significance appeared to be working. With 6:07 left in the third quarter, Lake Forest junior quarterback Danny Carollo threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Quinn Julian. That made the score 21-17 Stevenson.
At that point in the game, the Scouts’ offense was rolling. Two second-half possessions yielded 116 yards. Carollo was in a groove, completing 4-of-4 passes for 68 yards on the touchdown drive that ended with Julian’s catch (Carollo finished the game 17-of-35 for 154 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions).
“Throughout the week, we were watching film and saw their corners played soft. Dig [routes], square outs and slants will be there,” said senior wide receiver Sage Lawrence, who caught five passes for 94 yards before leaving with an injury. “We were connecting on those plays.”
With 5:04 remaining in the third and the score still 21-17, Lake Forest (3-1, 0-1) got the ball again. But three plays yielded one yard. The Scouts went three-and-out on their next possession, too. The defense, which had controlled big plays from the Stevenson offense, began to crack. When Carollo and the offense got the ball back with 8:25 remaining in the game, the deficit had swelled to three scores.
A Carollo interception on the first play of that drive all but ended any chance of a comeback. So what happened?
“It’s [Stevenson] doing a nice job with their scheme and what they were trying to achieve,” Spagnoli said. “It’s a team game. We have to be better.”
One reason for the offensive struggles came when Lawrence jumped in the air to try and catch a Carollo pass in the third quarter and fell awkwardly on his collarbone. He did not return. It was a big loss, and the offense never recovered.
“From what I saw, we lost momentum,” said Lawrence, who will miss 6-10 weeks with a broken right clavicle. “I felt like every time we would catch a break, something would happen. It slipped away.”
Senior defensive back Virgil Young added: “You think the game is yours and you can take the game, and we had a few mental errors that cost us the game.”
The last time Lake Forest played at Stevenson, in 2012, it lost a 22-16 heartbreaker in overtime. The following week, the Scouts played lethargically in losing at Warren.
“We can’t dwell [on the Stevenson game]. We have to fix it and move on to next week,” said Young, whose fumble return for a touchdown was one of three Lake Forest takeaways Friday. “Every goal is still attainable.”
Added Spagnoli: “There will be no hangover. I’m excited for our team. Our guys are going to move forward.”