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Ratnow's big plays on both sides send Vernon Hills past Lakes

The days of two-way football at higher levels are long gone, but they're still alive and well in high school.

Otherwise, Vernon Hills' Shep Ratnow might not have had the game he had against Lakes. We might be talking about a result different from the Cougars' 28-21 victory.

After the Cougars recovered an onside kick to begin the game, Ratnow ended the first drive by scoring a 27-yard touchdown on a fourth-down halfback pass from Anthony Martorano. He also had a 65-yard touchdown reception from Holden Smith on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Those two scoring plays accounted for his only receptions of the night.

It was on defense that Ratnow came up the biggest. With the Eagles threatening after scoring two unanswered touchdowns to tie the game at 21, Ratnow intercepted a Dominick Lostroscio pass and ran 65 yards the other way to put the Cougars back on top with 2:59 left.

"It feels pretty good," Ratnow said about contributing on both sides of the ball. "But without my teammates, none of this is really possible. We battle on both sides of the ball, and I feel like overall, this was a season highlight."

The Eagles put together a nice drive in the waning moments, advancing to the Cougars' 2-yard line with six seconds left. Lostroscio threw a pass to Prodive Matumona-Nzama in the end zone as time expired, but the ball was deflected and then picked off by Brandon Malveaux.

"We're looking forward to division play," Cougars coach Bill Bellecomo said. "We knew we had to get this one tonight. You never want to go down 0-2 to start the season, so we knew we had to get a win here, and our boys did the job tonight."

In addition to the early touchdown pass, Martorano contributed offensively in other ways. On one drive before halftime, he had a 37-yard run and a 20-yard reception. It was only fitting for him to score from the 1-yard line to break a 7-7 tie. That drive in particular was a major highlight of a 12-carry, 56-yard performance on the ground.

"Anthony does it all for us," Bellecomo said. "He's our leader. He plays everywhere: special teams, defense and offense. He's our emotional leader, and he's our playmaker."

Rondelle Griffin, who ran for 160 yards on 34 carries, got the Eagles on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. The Eagles' other two touchdowns came on a 2-yard run by Dillan Davis and a 4-yard reception by John Waterman. The latter of those scores was set up by a Mason Crowley interception deep in Cougars territory.