Spartans football opens with road win; Gaffney completes his 'journey'

Glenbrook North got off the bus ready to play in its 2023 football season opener.

The Spartans defense forced a turnover its first time on the field, the offense scored on its first possession, and the defense added first-quarter points.

The Spartans beat Lane Tech 29-0 in the nonconference opener at Lane Stadium in Chicago on Aug. 26.

"We played great as a team, the energy was there," said junior receiver Rocco Marquez, who caught Jack Philbin's 18-yard touchdown pass on Glenbrook North's eighth play from scrimmage. MacLean Mulvihill's fumble recovery at the 50-yard line gained possession.

"You're just excited, you want to take it to the house and score. I think playing as a team was probably the best part of it," Marquez said.

Another highlight was Sam Gaffney's play at quarterback behind offensive linemen Mathew Gazior, AB Ron, Matt Shlofrock, Henry Beazley, Landon Lauter and Cray Paich.

Glenbrook North led 8-0 on linebacker Graham Gottschild's blitzing end zone sack of Lane quarterback Noah Mayra when Gaffney relieved Philbin to start the second quarter.

Gaffney, a junior, had missed the entire 2022 season with a broken right hand.

In practice two days before last year's first game Gaffney cracked a knuckle on a teammate's face mask, he said. It led to surgery, a six-week recovery and, eventually, a lost season.

Gaffney looked in charge on Saturday, passing for 115 yards and a touchdown and running for a touchdown.

"I'll remember just how good it feels to be out there and controlling the offense, and how long of a journey it's been since I got injured last year," Gaffney said.

"We said coming into this game obviously Jack was going to start, Sam was going to get a number of high-quality reps," said Glenbrook North coach Matt Purdy.

"As he came in, he led us down the field and did some great things. We decided, if Sam's at quarterback, now it gives us a variety of things to do with a bunch of other guys."

Notably Philbin, who can line up at running back, slot or wide receiver. He already has a full plate, the punter and a starting safety with a team-high 8 tackles Saturday.

"Super-proud of Sam," Purdy added. "He knew he wasn't going to start coming into the game, but he practiced like a starter. As I told Coach (Eliot) Fields, our offensive coordinator, that kid is one extremely intelligent young man, just by the way he executed and ran the ball and placed the ball."

Perhaps most impressive was Gaffney helping Glenbrook North recover from a potentially demoralizing scenario on his first possession of the game.

The offense moved 40 yards to first-and-goal at the Lane Tech Champions' 8-yard line. Two penalties and a sack backed up the Spartans to second-and-goal from the 39.

Gaffney ran 4 yards, threw a 23-yard pass to tight end Patrick Schaller, and on fourth-and-goal from the 12 he looked to pass. With the whole left flat unprotected, Gaffney instead tucked the ball and used a Philbin block to run it in for a 16-0 Spartans lead that stood at halftime.

"Running it in, there is no better feeling," Gaffney said.

The Northwestern-bound Schaller started and finished a third-quarter scoring drive. He burst through the line to block a punt, again covered by Mulvihill, and scored on a 33-yard Gaffney pass. Wide open at the left hash marks, Schaller ran through a tackle attempt to make the score 22-0.

"First touchdown of the season, first game," Schaller said. "Energy's high, everyone's loving it. It's a good way just to start off the season."

Next time out Schaller erased a Champions defender with a pancake block on a 36-yard Trey Gottschild run. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Philbin returned at quarterback and pinballed in for the final touchdown with 1:52 left to play.

Purdy didn't like the 7 penalties for 65 yards, but he loved his team playing hard beginning to end.

"There's a hundred things we can clean up, and we need to clean them up fast, but overall I'm proud of what we did, I'm proud of our effort, I'm proud of how we played," he said.

"This is a great group of guys who are beyond coachable and I'm excited to see what we can do with them going into Week 2."

Glenbrook North hosts Grant (0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1.

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