It wasn’t long ago that Carmel was the state-of-the-art program in Lake County, and the popular reason for other teams not ascending to the same plateau had to do with Carmel being a county-wide school with no school district boundaries.
That made sense then. But this is now, and currently it’s Lake Zurich that is the elite program in this corner of the state. And the Bears are not a county-wide school; they do have school district boundaries.
In the last seven years, the Bears’ Class 7A playoff results have been as follows: second in state, state championship, first-round playoff out, state-semifinal loss, second in state, state-semifinal loss and state-semifinal loss.
So, clearly, it can be done.
And if the baton was passed once — Carmel to Lake Zurich — who says it can’t be passed again?
Maybe to a program like Warren’s.
The Blue Devils can make a huge statement Thursday when they take on North Suburban Lake favorite and state powerhouse Lake Zurich in the Bears’ den, with a 7:30 kickoff. The game is Thursday because Friday is a Jewish religious holiday.
This is a classic matchup between Warren’s high-octane offense and a Lake Zurich team that has allowed nothing — zero points — in eight quarters against two quality foes (Fremd and Cary-Grove).
So if Warren is to take the baton on Thursday, it’s going to have to be at its very best.
Which is exactly what the Blue Devils have been in their wins over highly-touted Lyons and New Trier.
Leading the offense is senior quarterback Andrew Nickell, who has been better than advertised.
“Coming into the season, we felt like we had a strong offense. We moved the ball at the start of the Lyons game, but we couldn’t punch it in. We just kind of jelled there toward the end of the game and we’ve been able to keep that rolling since,” Nickell said.
Warren’s passing attack has been effective in part because running backs Max Sorby and Cedric Sanders have been dangerous enough running the football behind the Blue Devils’ big offensive line to command attention.
“I like the balance. I like how we’ve been able to run the ball,” Nickell said. “Our offensive line has been fantastic. At the start of the summer, we really tried to work on our running game, because we felt we were a little bit weaker in that area to start, and it wasn’t going as well as we would like, but it’s really been a nice surprise. It’s definitely helped me out in the passing game as well.”
Nickell’s also getting amazing play from his wideouts and tight ends.
I can’t even put into words how awesome they’ve been. I have Javon [Charleston] and Zach [Rappel] on the outside. They’re both tall guys who can go up and get the ball,” Nickell said.
“I have Danny Rockingham, Josh Schroeder, Caleb [Reams], they’re all very capable slot and tight end guys in the middle of the field. They all know the offense. We just click really well in the passing game.”
But all that said, Nickell knows what the team is facing on Thursday.
“We definitely face a big challenge this week, but we’re up for it,” he said.
His teammates totally have Nickell’s back as the Devils go big-game hunting.
Said wideout Javon Charleston: “He’s been tremendous. I think people were wondering whether we had somebody who could fill the role Adam Reuss played for us last year, and he’s come in and really outdone it.”
Added O-lineman Matt Doljanin: “We’ve done a good job giving him time so far, so he can get the ball downfield to guys like Zach and Jay. He’s only been sacked twice in two games, but when he has the time, he’s also getting the ball into the right hands.”
“He works hard. He keeps everybody up,” said wideout Zach Rappel. “He’s a leader our there on offense. That’s exactly what you want in a quarterback.
“It’s the game of the year. We can’t wait.”
For his part, Warren coach Dave Mohapp — the dean of area coaches — said this group of Devils has been heaven-sent.
“They’re a very coachable group. They’re all on the same page, and they support the heck out of each other. Truly, it might be one of the tightest, most unified groups I’ve had in my 17 years,” he said.
It’s just the personality of the kids. They’re very supportive of each other, they’re very committed to football and doing what it takes to be successful.”
That, and of course, there’s the matter of talent.
“Without a question, there are some good football players on this team too,” Mohapp said. “We’re very fortunate.”