Practice makes perfect for Lakes

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The offense is averaging 41 points a game in what, so far, is a 5-1 football season — and that point number is likely to INCREASE during the final three weeks of the regular season.

The average margin of its four victories in North Suburban Conference Prairie Division play is 42 points, a number that also doesn’t figure to shrink much, if at all, in the next two weeks.

Yet, fans who follow football at Lakes are fully aware that the driving force behind this juggernaut is not the guys who put the points on the board, but rather the guys who keep the other team from doing the same.

With a playoff berth assured, Lakes football followers know too well that two things are very evident so far this season: The Class 6A bracket that the Eagles most assuredly will land in for the playoffs is loaded around here, with Lake Forest, Grayslake North and Crystal Lake Central all presenting major threats to Lakes’ advancement.

If this is going to be the first year in the school’s short history in which Lakes advances past the second round of the playoffs, it’s likely going to be the defensive unit that keys the victories.

And not necessarily in the way you think.

The reality is this: Besides keeping opponents off the scoreboard on Friday nights, the most important thing for the defensive players to do is work so hard in practice Monday-Thursday that they make the team’s offensive unit improve from better-to-unstoppable.

And that’s how you advance deep into the playoffs.

The toughest defense Lakes is going to face all this month is its own defense. That group must get the offense ready for tests against a Lake Forest (which plays big-school powers Lake Zurich and Stevenson) or a Crystal Lake Central (which routed Grayslake North — the team that beat Lakes).

So far, everyone on the team seems to understand what’s in front of them.

Defensive back Ethan Sage ,who had two fumble recoveries in last Friday night’s win, noted that “Our defense since Grayslake North (a 49-39 loss) has been on a roll. Everyone is doing their job and have been working hard.

“The coaches have been on us each week in practice to prepare like we are playing a really good team, which is getting us ready for the playoffs.”

Quarterback T.J. Edwards said the players know they have to improve through practice. The offense is still making mistakes, but against the foes on the schedule, there’s no price to pay for them. That will change in November.

“This was the offensive line’s best weak of practice and it showed,” Edwards said after beating Grant 41-0. “We are not overconfident. We remember what happened Week 1 vs Grays Lake North and are just trying to stay positive, disciplined and focused here toward the end of the season.

“Our defense continues to improve each week and offensively, it all starts up front.”

Cameron Johnson is the team’s featured running back, and he shared similar thoughts.

“We have to continue to improve offensively and work on fixing our mental mistakes,” he said, noting that the practice field is often better competition than the game itself on Friday nights, “Our scout defense gives us such great looks in practice each week. Our practices are sometimes better competition than games which, has really helped us improve.” “We have great chemistry as a team.”

Lakes has compiled a dominating regular-season record over the last four years — 32-4 — but the stumbling block has been the second week of playoffs. Coach Luke Mertens knows they have things to improve on each week.

“The big keys for us are that we need to stop other teams from running the ball against our defense and we need to be effective ourselves running the ball,” he said. Against Grant, he was happy with the performance. “We did a nice job stopping Grant on the run game and Cameron had a nice game for us offensively.”

Mertens is looking forward to correcting the mistakes and working on the offense to be even more productive.

“We need to continue to clean up our offensive plays, take care of the ball and to limit our penalties,” he said. “On offense, We need to be multi-dimensional to make it deep into the playoffs. We can’t rely on one or the other (run or pass) offensively. We need to have a passing game that can stretch the field vertically.”

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