Visiting Warren parlayed a smothering defense and big-play offense into a 42-0 victory over Zion-Benton on Friday in the North Suburban Lake finale for both teams.
Warren (7-2, 5-1) will be in Class 8A for the playoffs. Zion-Benton (3-6, 1-5) lost its final five games under first-year coach Bob Moynihan after starting out 3-1.
Zion is Warren’s biggest rival in sports, and the Zee-Bees came to play on Senior Night and trailed only 14-0 at the break.
Warren ran 18 plays in the first half and 14 of them gained a total of nine yards.
But the other four were a 47-yard TD run by Darrius Crump, a 28-yard TD pass from QB Jay Nickell to tight end Caleb Reams and two other Nickell pass completions that went for 43 and 33 yards.
Warren put the game away in the second half on a 54-yard TD pass from Nickell to Erik Kupraitis, a 57-yard punt return for a score by Jalen Powe and a 54-yard TD run by Reams, the tight end who took the shotgun snap from center as Warren unveiled its “WildDevil” formation. The final score was a 65-yard run by VaShaun Wright, making Warren’s six TDs all on plays of 28 or more yards.
Crump finished with 82 yards rushing on 10 carries and Wright had 89 yards on seven tries. Reams caught two passes for 61 yards and also had the TD run. Nickell was 5-for-10 passing for 160 yards and two scores.
Zion had two scoring chances in the first half, but picks killed the threats. Cole Iwema had two of Warren’s five interceptions in the game, and Powe had one.
Zion QB Doug Gates finished his prep career completing 8-for-18 passes for 24 yards. He ran 21 times for 93 yards.
“The first two drives, we didn’t have our feet under us and the short warmup (due to Senior Night) didn’t help,” Reams said, noting this was the first time all season Warren had played on grass. “Once we got our footing, we were able to put up points.”
As for the playoffs, the Illinois-bound tight end said, “We want to play five more games. The goal right now is just to go 1-0 every week.”
Warren’s coach knows a lot about winning in the playoffs. Last spring, Bryan McNulty coached an unheralded Warren squad to the state championship in softball.
“Give Zion credit. They played really well early. They have great athletes over there and they gave us everything we could handle in the first half,” he said.
As for the playoffs, McNulty noted, “I try to build my teams in any sport around getting ready for the postseason because that’s what counts. These kids worked hard over the summer and they’re still working hard today. They do all the things that I ask them to do.”
Excited about the playoffs is Powe, a junior defensive back. “This week, our attention was on what we need to do to get better. Now, we have to continue that attitude into the playoffs,” he said.
On the home side, Moynihan could not make it happen in a division in which five of seven teams made the playoffs.
“The defense played well all night,” he said. “Those last two (TD) runs, we were trying to get kids playing time on Senior Night. Obviously, we made some mistakes. We just can’t keep turning the ball over the way we did.”
As for next season, it starts now.
“This will be our first offseason with them,” Moynihan said. “They’ll come back different.”