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Stevenson steals the show at Lake Zurich
Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Stevenson celebrates winning 24-23 at Lake Zurich on Friday, October 1.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

It's bedlam on the field at Lake Zurich, where Stevenson celebrates a breathtaking 24-23 victory Friday night.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Stevenson's Michael Kuhn, left, and Brett Newman celebrates winning 24-23 at Lake Zurich on Friday, October 1.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Stevenson's David Peterson celebrates the difference-making touchdown with seconds left on the clock at Lake Zurich on Friday.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Stevenson's Joseph Cassata looks to turn the corner on Lake Zurich defender Mike Rantis at Lake Zurich on Friday, October 1.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Stevenson's Joseph Cassata runs the ball at Lake Zurich on Friday, October 1.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Stevenson's Anthony Bozin runs the ball at Lake Zurich on Friday, October 1.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Lake Zurich's Jacob Brinlee makes progress Friday night against Stevenson.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Stevenson's Joseph Cassata turns the corner on Lake Zurich defender Mike Rantis Lake Zurich on Friday, October 1.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/2/2010 1:34 AM

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No one can accuse the Stevenson and Lake Zurich football teams of false advertising.

Their game on Friday night was exactly what you'd expect out of two undefeated, state-ranked teams that were squaring off with first place in the conference on the line.

Touchdowns were scored, and then matched.

Each defense made big stops. Stevenson lineman Maxx Wujcik and Lake Zurich linebacker JJ Raffelson were everywhere.

Even the special teams got in on the action. Both kickers booted clutch field goals, a 25-yarder by Stevenson's Matt Micucci and a 38-yarder by Lake Zurich's Ed Szarkowicz.

Then, there was "the drive."

It was the icing on the cake. It made an already great game extraordinary.

Stevenson's 12-play drive that started with 2:14 left and covered 80 yards netted the winning touchdown with just three seconds remaining in the game.

Joe Cassata reached the end zone from 2 yards out to give the Patriots a dramatic 24-23 come-from-behind victory that puts them in sole possession of first place in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division.

"I'll remember this for the rest of my life," Wujcik said. "This was the biggest game of the year and it was huge for our team to be able to come back and win it."

Stevenson improves to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in league play. The Patriots are now the only undefeated team remaining in the Lake Division and one of only two undefeated teams in the entire North Suburban Conference, next to Vernon Hills.

Lake Zurich, meanwhile, drops to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in league play.

"It was all or nothing for us," Stevenson quarterback Kevin Earl said of the final drive. "We put all of our marbles in one bag. We just knew that we had one more drive and that's all it would take."

Well, it wasn't quite that easy for the Patriots.

Lake Zurich scored 17-straight points in the fourth quarter to take a 23-17 lead with 2:14 left. And the Bears' defense had essentially shut down the Stevenson offense for nearly the entire third and fourth quarters.

Micucci kicked his field goal on the Patriots' first possession of the third quarter but after that, the Stevenson offense struggled. Earl threw an interception to end a drive, and the Patriots' next two possessions ended with punts.

After production like that, the task of having to march 80 yards in 2 minutes to win the game seemed a bit daunting.

"We were a little worried," Cassata said. "But we dug down deep and finished real well. I was real excited that coach called my play. When I got it in (the end zone), it was the best feeling ever."

Cassata's touchdown was preceded by four monster completions by Earl. With Lake Zurich playing heavy prevent defense, he still managed to find Stephen Salata and Jaffar Mascoli down field. Salata caught three passes for 39 yards and Mascoli hauled in a 25-yarder.

"Those were huge catches," said Earl, who completed 14-of-24 passes for 207 yards. "I wasn't necessarily throwing the ball too hot tonight. A lot of my balls were under-thrown and not always in the appropriate spots. But they (Salata and Mascoli) made up for it. They stepped up and made huge plays at big times."

The Patriots came up with their other big plays in the first half. Stevenson owned a 14-7 halftime lead on a 37-yard Anthony Bozin touchdown run and a 4-yard touchdown run by Cassata.

Jacob Brinlee (game-high 101 rushing yards) scored Lake Zurich's only first-half touchdown on a 17-yard run.

The Bears then got back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard pass from Zach Till to Tim Sayre and a 1-yard run by Till.

When Szarkowicz booted his 38-yard field goal with 2:14 left, all looked good for the Bears.

"Stevenson did a great job and executed down the stretch and we just couldn't come up with the play that we needed," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "This is tough to swallow, but I'd rather lose right now.

"Not that you need a loss, and it's very disappointing. But I think our kids are going to come back even more hungry than what we might have been had we won."