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Lincoln-Way East’s defense buckles down and beats Oswego East

The Griffins rode a swarming defensive effort and Trey Johnson’s running to a 23-6 Class 8A first-round win over visiting Oswego East on Saturday.

After the catch, Oswego East’s Ty Carlson (2) is brought down by Lincoln-Way East’s DJ Ritter (29).
After the catch, Oswego East’s Ty Carlson (2) is brought down by Lincoln-Way East’s DJ Ritter (29).
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Most years, it works like this at Lincoln-Way East: The seniors play, the juniors wait their turn and the sophomores and freshmen get their reps at the lower levels.

This fall is different in Frankfort.

Coach Rob Zvonar has one of his youngest teams, but that doesn’t mean the talent level has dipped.

The Griffins rode a swarming defensive effort and Trey Johnson’s running to a 23-6 Class 8A first-round victory over visiting Oswego East on Saturday. Lincoln-Way East (8-2) plays at Minooka (6-4) next weekend in the second round.

Oswego East (6-4) has a talented junior quarterback in Tre Jones, who has offers from Arizona State and South Florida. But the Griffins were up to the challenge, limiting Jones to 8-for-19 passing for 86 yards. They also held the Wolves to 28 rushing yards.

Two leaders of the Lincoln-Way East defensive effort still have a lot of prep football in front of them. Sophomore defensive lineman David Wuske had a sack and three tackles for loss, and freshman defensive lineman Caden O’Rourke also had a sack.

“We have a youth movement going on,” Zvonar said. “You go through some growing pains, and nothing’s going to come easy. But the young kids are out there battling their tails off.”

Wuske credits the Griffins’ culture of accountability.

“We stick together,” he said. “When we messed up, we made sure we were on top of it.”

Preparation helps, too, in knowing Jones’ tendencies.

“We made sure [to know] what wide receivers [Jones] was looking toward,” Wuske said.

He also noted junior linebacker Jake Scianna’s vocal leadership for a defense that has held seven of its last eight opponents to 18 or fewer points.

On the other side of the ball, Johnson has emerged as a durable lead back after playing all over the field earlier in the season. He had 34 carries for 188 yards and one touchdown.

Johnson took on a bigger role when James Kwiecinski — who had 43 yards on eight carries — dealt with some injury issues.

“It kind of forced us to make Trey our workhorse,” Zvonar said. “Sometimes you stumble upon things — I don’t want to say by accident. He’s been averaging over 100 yards a game, 20 or 30 carries a game.”

“It’s tiring,” Johnson said, smiling, of the workload. “But whatever it takes to win, I’ll do it.”

Johnson’s running opened up some opportunities for the Griffins’ passing game. Quarterback Chase Arthur completed 10 of 16 passes for 103 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown to Jack Tremblay, and also had a one-yard sneak for a score.

Oswego East’s score came on a trick play: backup quarterback/receiver Josh Polubinski’s 79-yard option pass to Ty Carlson.

“The stuff we’ve been through over the course of the last week — I’m proud of our guys,” Wolves coach Tyson LeBlanc said. “[Friday] at this time, we were getting ready to go to a funeral.”

The funeral was for three-sport athlete Mark Chapas, who died just before Oswego East’s regular-season finale.