Something’s got to give.
When a high-powered offense meets up with a stingy defense, one of the two is going to end up outside of its comfort zone.
Both Stevenson and Lake Zurich are hoping to stay comfortable on Friday night in a battle of North Suburban Conference heavyweights. The winner will sit alone atop the league standings. Both teams enter the game at 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the NSC.
Stevenson boasts the No. 1 offense in the league, averaging 37.3 points per game with its pass-heavy spread offense.
Lake Zurich is holding up its long-running tradition of stingy defense. The Bears are allowing just 12 points per game, fewest in the NSC.
“We have found that the key to a successful defense is that your offense has to be a ball-control offense, especially when you’re playing a team with a high-powered offense like Stevenson,” Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said. “It’s crucial for our offense to control the ball and keep their offense off the field.”
Stevenson’s offense features one of the best quarterbacks in Lake County in Aidan O’Connell, who has already passed for 1,823 yards. He rolled up a season-high 440 yards against Muskegon, Mich. in Week 2.
“Their quarterback is extremely talented, one of the best quarterbacks we’ve faced,” Proffitt said of O’Connell. “And Stevenson has tall receivers that will be tough for us to match up with.”
O’Connell typically spreads the wealth between 6 to 7 receivers, although the Marchese twins, Henry and Michael (each about 6-foot-3), seem to be his favorite targets.
Like Stevenson, Lake Zurich is running a spread offense. It’s the Bears’ first diversion from their run-oriented option in years.
Quarterback Evan Lewandowski is getting more comfortable within the new offense, but has good support in the run game to keep defenses honest. Joey Stutzman, who started the season as a back-up, has been racking up 100-yard games like crazy.
Stutzman was to be the back-up for starter Kyle Roth, who rushed for more than 800 yards last season for Lake Zurich. But Roth blew out his knee the first time he touched the ball in the season opener.
Against Lake Forest last week, Stutzman rushed for 231 yards on 40 carries.
“I wish we had 11 guys on offense who were made out of what Joey is made out of,” Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said. “That’s the best way I can describe Joey. He is just so tough and works so hard.”
Defensively, the Bears are led by linebacker Ryan McGeever. That unit has started the same 11 guys all season and boasts great chemistry.
“All 11 guys have been playing great defense for us this season,” Proffitt said. “We like to cultivate that tradition of tough defense.”
Speaking of tradition, it’s becoming quite the tradition in the North Suburban Conference for the Stevenson-Lake Zurich game to be meaningful and spotlighted.
Both teams have won multiple conference titles and both teams have won state championships in the last nine years. Both have also been to the state championship game within the last three years.
“It’s a big rivalry because whenever we play each other, we usually both have very good records and the game has a factor on the conference championship,” Proffitt said. “It’s going to be a playoff-game type of atmosphere and the mentality will be that. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the conference championship.”