Moments after the sixth-seeded Bears trounced Crystal Lake South in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs, 49-0, last weekend, Lake Zurich coach David Proffitt headed for his office inside the school.
Not one to celebrate the smaller victories, Proffitt always seems to have his eyes on the bigger prize. This, despite the fact his team outgained the Gators, 265-6, in total yards from scrimmage in the first half alone — and forced five fumbles and three turnovers on the afternoon.
“To me, it’s just a game in the playoffs,” Proffitt said. “We played good at times, we played real good at times … and other times we didn’t play very good. So as a coach, that latter one is the one we need to address.”
On Saturday, the Bears (8-2 overall) travel to No. 3 seed Hononegah (9-1), where they’ll face a powerful Indians squad in their second-round matchup at 3 p.m.
On paper, this figures to be a battle between Hononegah’s high-powered offense and Lake Zurich’s stellar defense. Stopping the Indians, who average just over 40 points per game, will be no easy task.
That’s because the Indians are averaging 303 rushing yards per game, led by a trio of outstanding junior running backs that will make sure the Bears can’t just key on one specific player. Alex Martin (97 carries, 826 yards), Jake Wilson (68 carries, 580 yards) and Marrick Protz (70 carries, 571 yards) all average more than eight yards per carry.
When they pass the ball, look for them to turn to senior Joey Welsh (6 TD, 2 INT, 73.3 ypg) who has attempted only 67 passes this season.
“They’re gonna pose a very big challenge for us,” Proffitt said. “Their whole team is very athletic, on both sides of the ball. And extremely well-coached. They’re big. Their offensive line is a big line.”
Both clubs come into action with momentum on their side. After dropping its first game of the year, Hononegah has won nine straight. Lake Zurich, meanwhile, is riding a three-game winning streak, and has been victorious in seven of its last eight contests.
“When you talk about momentum, we as a team don’t look at it that way (trying to carry over from one week to the next),” Proffitt said. “It’s a win … whether it’s 3-0 or 49-0, we downplay the score as a team. We emphasize the importance of winning as a team, and really so the score itself from one week to the next doesn’t mean as much as it might mean to somebody else.”
One player who’s on a roll and hopes to carry his individual momentum over for the Bears is senior running back Connor Schrader, who ran the ball 28 times for 180 yards against the Gators. He also scored five touchdowns on the ground, tying Zach Till’s single-game school record.
“This is the first week since I injured my hip in the middle of the season that I’ve been 100 percent,” Schrader said. “It’s awesome (that I tied the record), and I’m very flattered and everything, I’m very happy with that. But it’s all just about the team.”
Defensively, the Bears have been nothing short of stellar, and come in allowing a meager 5.6 points per game (51 points in nine games, not including forfeit win over lake Forest). They have five shutouts, and the only time they’ve allowed more than 13 points in a game was a Week 2 loss against unbeaten Cary-Grove.
Junior linebacker Colton Moskal has been one of Lake Zurich’s standouts on that side of the ball. But what’s the secret to their success? It’s simple, he says. And like his coach, he refused to put too much stock in the victory over the Gators with Hononegah looming.
“It’s been fun being a part of this defense,” Moskal said. “It’s been a real joy to have everyone play as a team, and everyone flying around. All 11 guys play as a team. We all play as a unit. That’s been the key to our success.
“The win against Crystal Lake South, that was probably one of our better performances. But it doesn’t mean a thing the following week, unless we go out there again and do our jobs as a team.”