High school football: Justin Bland engineers Glenbard North’s comeback win against Kenwood

Glenbard North quarterback Justin Bland knows he can count on his teammates in the crucial, stressful final minutes of close games. And he knows how to lead them.

“I told everyone to calm down and take a break on the last drive,” Bland said. “We just had to lock in and hit our two-minute drill. Stay focused and stay humble, lock in and execute.”

The No. 17 Panthers took advantage of Kenwood’s mental mistakes to pull out a 21-18 victory on Saturday at Gately Stadium.

Damarion Elliston’s three-yard touchdown run with 1:29 to play put Glenbard North ahead for good.

Bland connected with Johnnie Robertson on a 21-yard touchdown pass with 7:22 left to pull the Panthers within a score.

“We just can’t shoot our own toes off,” Kenwood coach Sinque Turner said. “We made some boneheaded mistakes. And it was our decorated players that made the mistakes. That’s unexpected.”

Kenwood (0-1) led 18-7 at halftime but lost starting quarterback Nacari McFarland to an injury in the third quarter. That essentially ended the Broncos’ passing attack.

Last season Glenbard North (1-0) advanced to the Class 8A state quarterfinals. The Panthers lost to Lockport, the eventual champs, by just six points.

“It helps a lot to have so many returning starters from the last two years,” Bland said. “We have the chemistry from winning in the playoffs before.”

That’s where Kenwood’s program wants to get. The Broncos have several highly-recruited players. Junior defensive lineman Marquise Lightfoot, who has offers from most of the Big Ten and Notre Dame, was a dominant force throughout the game. But his roughing the kicker penalty on a punt in the fourth quarter allowed Glenbard North’s final drive to continue.

Bland was 7-for-14 passing for 115 yards. He threw one touchdown and an interception and had 13 carries for 34 yards. Robertson had four catches for 82 years.

Kenwood’s Kevlar Thunderbird (4) runs the ball in the final minutes of the game against Glenbard North.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

“I have to give Glenbard North credit,” Turner said. “They fought all four quarters. They were gritty and played smashmouth football and hung around. Then they took advantage of the opportunities we gave them.”

Kenwood quarterback Nacari McFarland left with a hand injury in the third quarter. He was 7-for-11 passing for 120 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s probably out for now but his backup is pretty good,” Turner said. “We’ll be ok. The guys were used to McFarland but [Kevari Thunderbird] has taken a ton of reps.”

McFarland connected with Omarion Lewis for a 40-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Taylen Goodwin (four carries, 30 yards) scored for Kenwood on a 17-yard run in the second quarter.

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