Friday night’s game between Lake Zurich and Stevenson won’t be a typical, late-season North Suburban Conference Lake Division battle. Not by a long shot.
Much, much more than usual will be at stake when the second-place Bears (5-2 overall, 3-1 NSC Lake) host the division-leading Patriots (6-1, 4-0). Just ask LZ coach David Proffitt.
“It’s not just a battle for first place,” Proffitt said. “It’s also big in the sense that we only have five wins, and need six to guarantee ourselves a spot in the playoffs. Make no mistake — we need to win this game. Because our final game of the (regular) season is at Warren, and there are certainly no guarantees there, either.”
Fresh off last week’s 3-0 loss at the hands of Libertyville in the Bears’ homecoming game, LZ is a team that seems determined to try to prove its doubters wrong. Stevenson’s wide receivers, in particular, may pose a unique problem for the Bears.
“They’ve got some of the best wide receivers we’ve seen on film this year,” Proffitt said. “They have three or four tall young men who can go up and get the football. And that poses a huge challenge for us, because we’re not that tall in our secondary.”
It’s a challenge Bears starting free safety Grant Soucy has chosen to embrace. Soucy knows all too well what it’s like to play in a big game. He was a sophomore on the LZ club that lost in the IHSA Class 7A state finals two years ago.
“A game like the one coming up against Stevenson, it definitely helps that I’ve been in some really pressure-packed situations,” Soucy said. “It helps me remain calm and focused out there. (Stevenson) is probably the fastest and biggest group of receivers we’ve faced all season, so we have to do everything we can to keep the ball out of their hands. Yeah, they’re bigger, but we have to give 100 percent. There are a lot of ways to disrupt what they’re trying to do, and a lot of fundamentals and techniques that we hope to use to make what they’re trying to do extremely difficult for them.”
Not that playing strong defense has posed much of a problem for the Bears much this season. LZ, after all, has allowed only four points per game, and has four shutouts. The Bears have allowed an opponent more than three points in a game just once — in a 21-3 loss to McHenry County power Cary-Grove.
Making matters more difficult for the Bears is that they expect to be without top running back Connor Schrader, who left with an injury on the first play of the game against Libertyville.
“I’d rather not say what it is,” Proffitt said. “But I will say it’s the type of injury that’s not season-ending. It’s very doubtful he’ll play, and it’s one of those things I think will probably take anywhere from a week to 10 days to heal fully.”
As a result, several of the Bears’ other players will be asked to step up and have an increased role in the team’s spread offense. It also means senior starting quarterback Jake Stauner will be asked to continue his aggressive style of play.
Stauner had seven carries of six yards or more against Libertyville, including runs of 10, 11, 12 and 38 yards. He had 15 pass attempts as well, and even though LZ is primarily a running team, the loss of Schrader will put even more pressure on the Bears when they decide to throw the ball.
“The running and passing games definitely both complement each other,” Stauner said. “You’ve gotta do both to keep the other team on their toes and second-guessing, so they don’t always know where the ball’s gonna go. I think we have a great opportunity to step up in a big game Friday night, and as a group show Stevenson just how good of a football team we really are. It should be a lot of fun, and I know I’m really looking forward to it, and so are the rest of the guys.” ~.