Whenever Lincoln-Way West quarterback Justin Keuch hands the ball to Javier Montalvo, something good can happen.
Keuch understands that, and under the tutelage of coach Dave Ernst, who coordinates the offense, he has worked hard on the mental side of his game.
During Friday’s 42-13 SouthWest Suburban Red victory over Lincoln-Way Central, which was hoping to secure a playoff berth, Ernst estimated Keuch “checked off at the line of scrimmage on probably 50 percent of our running plays.”
Checking off could mean changing to a different play, or running the same play to the opposite side. Either way, “Justin controls the game,” Ernst said.
“Every week we try to get better and add new things to our offense,” Keuch said. “Sometimes things work and we stick with it.”
West (8-1) will begin the Class 5A playoffs at 1 p.m. Saturday, hosting Urban Prep-Bronzeville. After that, it will be nothing but heavyweights in the 5A northern bracket. West belongs in that team picture with Montini, Sycamore, Joliet Catholic, Kaneland, Marian Central, Nazareth and perhaps a couple of others.
“We have a special group of guys,” Ernst said.
Sixteen of the Warriors’ regulars started last season, when they reached the 5A quarterfinals and dropped a 22-21 overtime decision to Joliet Catholic.
Keuch completed 9-of-16 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown against Central. Montalvo contributed his typical game, 24 rushes for 213 yards and three scores. The offensive line is clicking.
“Everyone has been working hard blocking for Javy,” said senior tackle Brennan Mulroe, the leader of the youthful group up front. “One block and he’s downfield.
“We have a lot of young guys in the line, but they don’t play like young guys. They go all out. They’re always ready and focused.”
Mulroe and Jake Heckler are the tackles, Jake Zola and Bryce Brokop the guards. Justin Witt and Griffin Sullivan saw time at center against Central. Brokop and Witt are sophomores, Zola and Heckler juniors.
Keuch threw quick passes from a three-step drop more often than not. That allowed wide receivers Jake Robbins and Colin DuCray and tight end Mason Mahoney to make meaningful plays.
“We always have big deliveries where we can go deeper,” Keuch said. “But getting it out quick helps with the receivers we have.”
“These kids are smart,” Ernst said. “They ran a lot of three-step routes, and those were decided on the field.”
“I’m more focused on the mental end now,” Keuch noted. “Last year was a learning process, but once I’ve learned things, it’s been golden.”
The defense equally was impressive as the Warriors steam into the postseason.
“I think we had a good game because we were really swarming to the ball,” said nose tackle Ray Rodriguez, who was huge in stuffing Central’s running game until after the issue had been decided. “It was one of our better games considering the overall atmosphere.
“As the year went on, we’ve felt more and more like we can do it. I have never been part of a team this hard working. This is one game, but I think it showed who we are. Central is a very good team. I know I got my butt kicked in there a few times.”