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Lincoln-Way East’s Jamal Johnson provides season-opening fireworks in win against Bolingbrook

High school football returned to the state Friday after a 15-month layoff. It was welcomed back with a bang in Frankfort.

Lincoln-Way East’s Jamal Johnson (1) runs the ball past Bolingbrook’s defense.
Lincoln-Way East’s Jamal Johnson (1) runs the ball past Bolingbrook’s defense.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

High school football returned to the state Friday after a 15-month layoff. It was welcomed back with a bang in Frankfort.

Lincoln-Way East senior Jamal Johnson started things off with a 70-yard touchdown run on the Griffins’ first play from scrimmage. He burst untouched down the middle of the field.

“I just saw open daylight,” Johnson, a Bowling Green recruit, said. “My linemen did everything for me. We’ve been working on schemes all week, and they got it done. I have to give it all to them.”

Johnson is replacing 2019 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year AJ Henning, who is now at Michigan. The immediate statement run showed the defending Class 8A champs still have a standout weapon.

“A lot of people have been talking like he’s gone and that will be our downfall,” Johnson said. “But we’re a team, a unit, and we just get things done.”

Johnson had 22 carries for 234 yards and two touchdowns in No. 3 Lincoln-Way East’s 42-14 victory against No. 12 Bolingbrook.

“Jamal is an animal,” Griffins senior Sevren Stuckey said. “He knew exactly what to do. That’s how you set the tone. First play, right up the middle. Touchdown. Six.”

Stuckey had a standout game with three interceptions. He recently switched positions from wide receiver to defensive back.

“He showed tonight that he took those offensive skills over to the defensive side,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “He did a great job, and I’m proud of him. He wanted to be a receiver, but he didn’t pout, didn’t complain about moving. He picked it right up, and he can keep playing there somewhere after this year.’’

Lincoln-Way East (1-0, 1-0 Southwest Suburban Blue) led 14-7 at halftime, and the game stayed close for most of the third quarter until Johnson powered in for a three-yard touchdown with 6:19 left. Then quarterback Sean Walsh connected with junior Jack Tremblay for a 28-yard touchdown pass that put the Griffins ahead 28-7 heading into the fourth.

Walsh was 4-for-10 with two touchdowns and an interception. Senior Connor Kubik had eight carries for 41 yards and a touchdown for the Griffins.

“We struggled in every phase of the game at some point, and we played well at every phase of the game at some point,” Zvonar said. “They say the biggest improvement is from Week 1 to Week 2.”

Bolingbrook quarterback Vincenzo Meschi, a transfer from Batavia, was 27-for-53 with one touchdown and six interceptions.

“As a corner, you want the ball in the air,” Stuckey said. “Most teams like to run and counter and do all these fancy little trick plays. As a DB, you want to be challenged. And Bolingbrook has some good receivers who challenged us, but we made it happen.”

Meschi connected with six receivers. His top two targets were senior Andrew McElroy, who had 12 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown, and freshman Kyan Berry-Johnson, who had nine catches for 82 yards.

Lincoln-Way East’s two toughest games of the short season come early. The Griffins host No. 8 Homewood-Flossmoor next week.

“There were some great individual efforts, but there is a lot of improvement to do,” Zvonar said. “It’s going to be unfortunate because we’re going to get to Week 6 and feel like we’re starting to hit our stride, and it’s going to be over with. But that’s where we are at.”