Special teams sends Lake Forest past Libertyville

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LAKE FOREST — Lake Forest’s 29-20 NSC Lake win over Libertyville Friday was a prime example of how a game’s momentum can change in an instant.

Trailing 7-6 with less than two minutes left in the first half, the Scouts’ special teams took over.

First came a safety on a bad snap by the Wildcats at the 1:12 mark, which put Lake Forest ahead 8-7. Scouts senior Wes Janeck then reeled off a 70-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing Libertyville free kick just 12 seconds later.

From that point on, the Scouts (4-1, 1-1 NSC Lake) never trailed, despite being outgained 176-98 in first-half yardage.

“Those two plays were the ball game right there,” Lake Forest coach Chuck Spagnoli said. “In the blink of an eye, our special teams completely changed everything.”

It was a key block by Scouts senior cornerback Virgil Young that allowed Janeck to tally his first kick return TD of the season.

“After the hundreds of times we’ve practiced punt and kickoff returns in games that don’t count, it felt great to get one that mattered,” Young said. “Our coaching staff teaches us to hit [opposing players] inside at first on special teams, then work our way outside to block.

“Wes also made three Libertyville players completely miss on the play.”

Janeck also carried the ball 26 times for 143 yards and a pair of rushing TDs. He was raving about Young’s block, which created a gaping hole during his punt return.

“Every week, Virgil keeps telling me to follow him to the outside after the initial blocks,” Janeck said. “I knew sooner or later I was gonna break one. It was a matter of time. After that, we were all pretty fired up inside the locker room at the break. Huge momentum swing. Huge win in front of our fans.”

Lake Forest’s kicking game excelled, too. Senior Kyle Gattari connected on a pair of field goals from 33 and 44 yards in the first quarter, and was successful on all three of his extra point attempts. The Scouts also had a huge goal-line stand on consecutive plays at their own 1-yard line prior to the Janeck’s punt return.

“Our hope by halftime was we’d control the field position game, which we did,” Spagnoli said. “We also used our hurry-up offense to wear Libertyville down. As the game went on, I think that made a big difference.”

Libertyville (3-2, 1-2) reduced Lake Forest’s double-digit lead to single digits twice in the game’s final seven minutes, thanks in part to a 71-yard TD reception by wide receiver Nick Rossetti. Wildcats QB Riley Lees (21 carries, 142 yards) also had an 80-yard run, which set up his own 3-yard rushing score late.

“We gave Lake Forest nine points on special teams in under 20 seconds,” Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. “That was the turning point. But I was proud of our kids tonight. They kept fighting until the end. We were better at playing until the final horn this week than we were last week, so that’s a good sign.”

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