Dave Ernst loves late October and November.
Make the playoffs. Promote sophomores and change the flow of practices.
And, keep winning.
“This is the best time of year,” the Lincoln-Way West coach said after Saturday’s 48-8 victory over Urban Prep-Bronzeville in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs. “You have more guys at practice. You can go drill to drill faster. You can run it like a college practice.”
Ernst is in just his second season as the Warriors’ head coach. But he is familiar with playoff success. He was a longtime offensive coordinator at Providence, Lincoln-Way Central and West. He directed high-powered Providence attacks in the 1990s.
Warriors quarterback Justin Keuch guides an offense with similar characteristics. Run the standout tailback often. Rely on the offensive line. Mix in a passing attack that is more effective than it is spectacular.
Javier Montalvo, the tailback who came in averaging nearly 250 yards per game, carried 10 times for 67 yards against Bronzeville. His understudy, Adam Knerr, added 164 in 10 carries.
“Javy and Knerr are both good runners,” Keuch said. “When coach Ernst calls their number, they are ready. Knerr will be a player to look for the next couple of years.
“Knerr is a good, tough kid,” Ernst said. “Javy’s brother (Gabe Montalvo) is a good running back himself.”
So the Warriors have something to look forward to. That’s not the present concern, however.
West (9-1) will visit Glenbard South (10-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the second round.
“We did a good job stopping the run after the first series,” safety Alex Gray said after the Bronzeville game. “Our defense is getting better every week. Glenbard passes the ball more, so we’ll be practicing our pass defense more. We have to play our best football.”
Glenbard South undoubtedly will attempt to slow down Montalvo. Keuch and his receivers are the alternative. Against Bronzeville, Keuch threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Jake Robbins in a 3:19 span of the second quarter.
Earlier in the second quarter, Keuch suffered a leg bruise and a shot to the funny bone on his right elbow on the same hit. He was out briefly, then returned to inflict damage on Bronzeville.
Keuch said he will be fine, only bruised. “This is why girls don’t play football,” he said.
“Justin is amazing,” Robbins said. “He even found me on the past pattern (for a 41-yard touchdown). Not only was it against the wind, but he was not able to plant well with the leg injury.”
“Justin has good arm strength,” Ernst said. “He has had an outstanding senior year.”
The Warriors reached the 5A quarterfinals last year with Keuch calling signals, falling to Joliet Catholic 21-20 in overtime. They are back in the loaded northern bracket of 5A, where the season of four very good teams will end this weekend.
“That’s OK,” Ernst said about the rugged competition from here on out. “It’s supposed to be difficult.
“We definitely have things to clean up. But our kids are so committed. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”
He paused and added, “This is my favorite time of year.”