VERNON HILLS — Just three games into the 2021 season, Vernon Hills is already on a nine-game winning streak.
Ben Choi, a star in the Cougars’ thorough 41-6 victory over visiting Elk Grove on Friday, wasn’t even on the varsity team yet.
But he thinks he knows exactly why Vernon Hills hasn’t lost a regular-season game since Week 8 of the 2019 season.
“We’re just like a family,” said Choi, who ran for a 56-yard touchdown and rolled up 120 rushing yards on the night. “I think that’s what brings us together and helps us. Over the summer, we just really bonded and we worked hard and we learned from the coaches because we knew we would have a target on our backs this season.”
Last spring, during the shortened COVID-19 season that pushed what should have been fall of 2020 football into March and April, Vernon Hills went 5-0 and won the Central Suburban League North title, its first CSL title since leaving the North Suburban Conference.
Winning that is now the expectation for the now 3-0 Cougars, who were up on Elk Grove 20-0 by halftime.
“We were very fortunate that we had great senior leadership last year and it allowed our younger guys to come along and now it’s their time,” Vernon Hills assistant coach Tony Monken said. ‘”They’ve taken that role as leader and they’ve just kept going with it. It’s been a fun run and nine in a row is pretty good.”
After Choi’s long touchdown went on the board six minutes into the game, the Cougars scored twice more before halftime: on a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown by Martin Kamrin and then Luke Lutgens caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nolan Lazor, who is showing promise after offseason shoulder surgery.
Nate Lee ran in a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put Vernon Hills up 28-0 and Alex Gil hauled in a 23-yard pass from Jake Pieper to run the advantage to 34-0.
Elk Grove (1-2), which was moving the ball throughout the game but not finishing drives, finally got on the board late in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mitchell Janczak to Brady Tosterud.
“We drove the ball down but then would just get stuck and hit a roadblock,” said Janczak, who passed for 162 yards. “We just have to execute better. We’re driving, we’re making plays. We just can’t finish.”
Vernon Hills finished up the scoring with one last touchdown in the final two minutes: a 17-yard run by Jack Pristas.