Top-ranked Stevenson shuts down Lakes

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There’s a reason why there are eight classes for football rather than four.

In football, the quantity of players matters. Perhaps not as much as quality, but it’s definitely in play.

And quantity as much as quality was front and center in Lake Villa on Friday when Stevenson simply wore down host Lakes 21-3 in a battle of the last two unbeaten teams in Lake County.

Both are likely to make the playoffs — Stevenson in Class 8A and Lakes in 6A — and both have a real shot at deep playoff runs.

To sum up the game in a sentence: Stevenson (5-0) wore Lakes (4-1) down in the second half to build on a 7-3 lead.

That was it.

The Patriots outgained the Eagles 385-159, the home team’s points were set up by a 45-yard punt return by Jake Balliu.

Otherwise, Stevenson pounded and pounded and pounded.

Senior quarterback Willie Bourbon was 17-for-27 for 214 yards, including a 29-yard scoring stroke to Cameron Green (six catches, 71 yards) on the game’s opening drive.

Bourbon also rushed eight times for 26 yards. Jack Sorenson and Tyler Vincent each also caught five of Bourbon’s throws.

Big back Jack Joseph did the rest. He rushed 24 times for 140 yards and scored on second-half runs of 21 and one yards to clinch the victory.

Lakes, meanwhile, couldn’t budge Stevenson’s dominant defensive front seven.

Junior QB Jordan Mercure completed 6 of 11 throws for 15 yards. He ran four times for 49 yards. Speedy running back Devyn Cedzidlo gained 19 yards on 10 carries and was taken off on a stretcher with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury on the first play of the third quarter. His replacement, Izayah James, finished with 14 carries for 47 yards.

“The thing we say before every game is that we can never underestimate any opponent,” Joseph said. “These guys are a great team. They have a great defense and a great offense. They fly around.

“We came out a little slow,” he added. “That’s something we have to work on. We have to come out faster. We started to get our running game going. That was big. We couldn’t have done it without our O-line. They did a great job tonight.”

Stevenson coach Bill McNamara agreed that O-line play was pivotal.

“We challenged our line at halftime to play better, and I think they came out and played a lot better,” he said. “We went on the road and played a 4-0 Lakes team that’s a solid football team. We knew we were going to be in for a game. We’re happy to come out with a victory. I wouldn’t say we played an ‘A’ game tonight, but we did some things really well and saw some things we need to improve on.”

Despite the loss, Lakes coach Luke Mertens was happy with how the contest unfolded.

“I think our team needs this. We need to play an opponent that’s that fast,” he said. “It was very clear it took us some time to adjust to the speed. I think that’s very important for our program to have to see that.”

As for his team, Mertens is still a believer in his Eagles.

“We have the utmost faith that we have a good football team,” he said. “Call it arrogance. Call it whatever you want. These guys (Lakes players) are good, and I think they proved it today. They went toe-to-toe with, right now, what everyone says is the best team in the state. What more can you ask for?

“That’s with losing your starting running back on the first play (of the second half), which is obviously traumatic,” he added. “That’s you’re friend laying there. The guys battled. I’m proud of them.”

Balliu, one of the county’s best all-around players, knows that his team can build on this loss.

“I think we played well. We went out and fought,” he said. “This is the kind of game where you see where you stand. Obviously we wound up on the losing end, which isn’t good, but it’s a good stepping stone for us. We have a quick turnaround and face a good Vernon Hills team this Thursday.”

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