FOX VALLEY FOX
Grayslake Central (6-0, 4-0) at Woodstock North (4-2, 2-1)
When: 7:15 p.m., today
Last week: Grayslake Central def. Crystal Lake Central, 10-7; Woodstock North def. Dundee-Crown, 25-6.
Skinny: The Rams didn't exactly run Crystal Lake Central out of town last week. But their sixth win of the season may have just been their most impressive. Grayslake Central earned its 10-7 win by surviving 2 big second-half turnovers and a costly penalty. "I was pleased with the way we handled that adversity," Grayslake Central coach Nick Goshe said. "The kids did not allow all that to throw the game away."
The Grayslake Central defense came through again by neutralizing the trouble and keeping Crystal Lake Central out of the end zone in crunch time. The Rams are tied with Lake Zurich for having the stingiest defense in Lake County. Both teams have given up only 40 points on the season for an average of 6.7 points per game. The Rams have also posted 2 shutouts so far.
Offensively, Grayslake Central is tied with sister school Grayslake North for best scoring average in the Fox Valley Fox Division (34.2 ppg). Quarterback Ray Beckman continues to shine. He completed 14-of-24 passes last week for 179 yards. His main target was receiver Vince Smith, who hauled in 5 catches for 96 yards...The Woodstock North offense sits just behind the two Grayslakes at 27 points per game. "Woodstock North doesn't do anything too special but all things they do are very good," Goshe said. "Their quarterback and running back are very talented players who can be game-changers. They will be a great challenge on a short week for our kids."
Crystal Lake Central (3-3, 2-1) at Grayslake North (4-2, 3-0)
When: 7:15 p.m., today
Last week: Crystal Lake Central lost to Grayslake Central, 10-7; Grayslake North def. Woodstock 49-21.
Skinny: Grayslake North is getting closer and closer to its first playoff berth in school history, thanks in part to a three-game winning streak...Grayslake North and Crystal Lake Central are coming into this game from two totally different places. The Knights are high-scoring and riding high after another win. Crystal Lake Central is stingy with the points and is trying to regroup after a frustrating, low-scoring loss to Grayslake Central.
Grayslake North is tied with its sister school Grayslake Central for best scoring average in the Fox Valley Fox. Both are at 34.2 points per game. Meanwhile, the Tigers boast the second-stingiest defense in the division at 11.2 points per game. Grayslake Central tops that list, allowing 6.7 points per game...Grayslake North's defense came up with some big plays of its own last week against Woodstock, forcing 2 turnovers that were eventually turned into points by the offense.
Quarterback AJ Fish, who continues to put up gaudy numbers, had a hand in both touchdowns. He had a total of 4 touchdowns on the game. Running back David Collins also had a big game for the Knights. He rushed for 145 yards on 17 carries...Crystal Lake Central is trying to adjust to life without leading rusher Gage Harrah, who suffered a knee injury two weeks ago against Prairie Ridge. He is expected to be out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL.
NORTH SUBURBAN LAKE
Warren (2-4, 2-2) at Lake Forest (5-1, 3-0)
When: 7:30 p.m., today
Last week: Warren def. Mundelein, 55-20; Lake Forest def. Stevenson, 10-7.
Skinny: It's Week 3 of "win or go home" mode for Warren. With four straight losses to begin the season, the Blue Devils have been under the gun the last two weeks and will continue to be as they will need to run the table in order to finish with the minimum five wins needed to be considered for a playoff spot based on points. "We've been telling the kids every week that it's like we're playing playoff games at this point," Warren coach Dave Mohapp said. "If we lose, we're out (of the playoff race). It's 'do or die.' That's been the recurring theme in our camp and the kids have responded. They know that every game, every play is important. We know there is no room for error and that we can't afford to come out in any game and not be ready."
The Blue Devils, who currently boast the second-most playoff points in the North Suburban Lake Division (32), are trying to ready themselves for one of the hottest teams in Lake County in Lake Forest. The Scouts are coming off a huge win against defending Lake champion Stevenson, which was previously unbeaten in division play. "Lake Forest is a very, very good football team," Mohapp said. "I have a lot of respect for Stevenson and the way Lake Forest played them last week was outstanding. Lake Forest's offense is what you look for in an offense. They are very balanced. They can run and pass very well. Their quarterback is mobile and has a good arm. Defensively, they play good team defense. You couldn't even single out one guy last week in their game against Stevenson because all 11 guys were executing on every play."
The Lake Forest defense ranks second in the Lake Division in points allowed behind Lake Zurich. The Scouts are giving up 11.7 points per game while Lake Zurich is at 6.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Lake Forest, which got tagged with its only loss in the season opener at the hands of Buffalo Grove (31-24), also leads the division in scoring with an average of 35.5 points per game...The Warren offense, which struggled early to find consistency in its new spread attack, has been clicking much better lately thanks to the stepped-up efforts of quarterback Adam Reuss, running back Davonte Wilcox and wide receivers Mitch Munda, Connor Iwema and Kyle Gregory. "We've been running our offense a lot better lately," Mohapp said. "I think a lot of it has to do with those guys really stepping up their games."
Lake Zurich (5-1, 3-0) at Stevenson (4-2, 3-1)
When: 7 p.m., today
Last week: Lake Zurich def. Libertyville, 31-6; Stevenson lost to Lake Forest, 10-7.
Skinny: What a big two-week stretch for Lake Zurich. The Bears take on defending North Suburban Conference Lake Division champion Stevenson this week and then get a Lake Forest team that is fresh off a Week 6 win over Stevenson and shares first place in the division standings with them. Obviously, two wins would sew up the division title for Lake Zurich, which has won only one division title in head coach Bryan Stortz's six-year tenure. In 2007, Lake Zurich won not only a Lake Division title, it won the Class 7A state championship as well. The Bears went 13-1 that year.
"We want to win conference championships," Stortz said. "It's definitely a focus and we've only won that one in 2007. I think the kids want to get another one. This is an important stretch for us and you could tell that everyone really wanted to get out and practice well this week."
Lake Zurich has been setting the tone with its defense, which is tied with Grayslake Central for the stingiest defense in Lake County. Both teams have allowed just 40 points on the season, which averages to 6.7 points per game. "Our defense plays with so much enthusiasm," Stortz said. "We run really good schemes and we have defensive kind of guys playing there. They're a little goofy. The importance of good, solid defense is kind of engrained in kids early on in Lake Zurich. Kids expect to play great defense and run the football here."
Offensively, Lake Zurich continues to roll up the points and the yards in its option offense that centers on the run but has been incorporating more passing lately. The Bears, who rank second in scoring in the Lake Division with 29.2 points per game, get the job done on the ground with running backs Mike Shield, Connor Schrader and Mike Rantis, as well as quarterback Zach Till, whose improvements in the passing game have allowed the running game to remain so potent. "Last year, we were throwing the ball eight or nine times a game and now we're at 16 or 17 times a game," Stortz said. "Zach has really developed as a quarterback and it's helped out the entire offense. Having the balance he gives us with the passing game is something that we haven't always been good at in the past. Now, teams can't just load up on us and try to stop only the run."
The Stevenson defense should be tough against both the run and the pass. The Patriots rank third in the Lake Division in points allowed at 12.8 per game. "Their defense is fast," Stortz said of Stevenson, which is hoping to stay in the hunt for a second straight Lake Division title. "At times, we play like a great football team," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "Other times, we make a wide variety of mistakes. We really need to improve our discipline as a football team."...Stevenson's offense struggled last week against Lake Forest and was stagnant at times. Anthony Bozin provided the only offensive fireworks for the Patriots when he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Micucci.
Libertyville (3-3, 1-2) at Zion-Benton (2-4, 0-3)
When: 7:30 p.m., today
Last week: Libertyville lost to Lake Zurich, 31-6; Zion-Benton def. Round Lake 28-27 in overtime.
Skinny: Inconsistency has been the story during Libertyville's two-game losing streak. The Wildcats are coming off of losses to Stevenson and Lake Zurich, two of the top teams in the North Suburban Lake Division. "Our offense is very inconsistent," Libertyville coach Randy Kuceyeski said. "We are turning the ball over in critical situations and haven't capitalized on our field position when the defense gets it for us. My concern is that we're not cashing in."
The truth is in the numbers for the Wildcats, who have scored the second-fewest points in the Lake Division behind Mundelein. Libertyville is averaging 13.5 points per game while Mundelein is at 9.3 points per game…The good news for Libertyville is that Zion-Benton doesn't score a lot of points either. The Zee-Bees are averaging 15.8 points per game, third fewest in the Lake. They have also allowed the second-most points in the division (184 in six games for a 30.7-point average).
"Zion will use its speed to try to get behind our defense as well as try to break the perimeter defense down by running wide," Kuceyeski said. "We need to contain their overall team speed with good pursuit. We need to play tough team defense."…Libertyville also needs to win out to gain a playoff berth with six wins, but could still make the field with the minimum five wins needed to qualify with playoff points. The Wildcats currently boast the most playoff points in the Lake Division with 33…Zion-Benton's win over Round Lake last week snapped a four-game losing streak. The Zee-Bees' only other win came on Opening Night against Deerfield, 27-13.
NORTH SUBURBAN CROSSOVER
Vernon Hills (2-4) at Mundelein (0-6)
When: 7 p.m., today
Last week: Vernon Hills lost to Grant, 26-6; Mundelein lost to Warren, 55-20.
Skinny: "We're pressing." That's how Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken characterizes the way his team has been playing of late. It's understandable, considering that the two-time defending North Suburban Conference Prairie Division champs are in a position they're not used to. Vernon Hills enters this game having lost three straight games (Antioch, Lakes, Grant). The Cougars need to win all three of their remaining games to even have a chance to qualify for the playoffs based on playoff points.
"We continue to miss opportunities to make plays on offense," Monken said. The Cougars have been especially stagnant over those losses. They are averaging just 6.3 points per game in that stretch…Scoring points could be easier this week. Mundelein has given up the most points in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division. The Mustangs are allowing 41.5 points per game. It's no mystery as to why Mundelein is winless so far. At the same time, the Mustangs are averaging only 9.3 points per game, fewest in the Lake. "We obviously are not playing up to our team's expectations," Mundelein coach Bob Stone said. "We have not played a complete game yet. We gave up too many big plays (last week against Warren). Five big plays of more than 20 yards or more really hurt."
The Mustangs have had some bright spots with the play of wide receiver Connor O'Donoghue and fullback/linebacker Matt Heppert. "Connor has done a very good job of making big catches for us," Stone said. "And Matt is always playing at 100 percent."
NORTH SUBURBAN PRAIRIE
Antioch (6-0, 3-0) at Round Lake (1-5, 1-2)
When: 7:30 p.m., today
Last week: Antioch def. Lakes, 30-14; Round Lake lost to Zion-Benton, 28-27 in overtime.
Skinny: The old cliché of "records can be deceiving" might really be true in Round Lake's case. At least that's what Antioch coach Brian Glashagel believes. "This is the best Round Lake teams I've seen since I've been here," said Glashagel, now in his fifth year with the Sequoits. "They should be 3-3. The lost in overtime against Zion and on a last-second play to North Chicago. They have given everyone they've played trouble at one point or another."
Offensively, Round Lake boasts two explosive weapons in quarterback Anthony Burton and running back Daniel Vega. Burton can run or throw and Vega can run or catch. Vega also is a dangerous kickoff and punt returner. He busted out an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown two weeks ago against Grant…But Round Lake's gains on offense have too often been negated by a defense that can be porous. The Panthers are allowing 34.3 points per game, second-most in the North Suburban Prairie Division. North Chicago is just slightly ahead with 34.7 points per game allowed
Meanwhile, Antioch is at the other end of the spectrum. The Sequoits lead the Prairie in fewest points allowed with just 52 points in six games. That's an 8.7-point average. Last week in a 30-14 win over Lakes in which Lakes didn't score until the fourth quarter, George Gonzalez had 2 interceptions, Steve Smith had an interception and 10 tackles and Zach Freundt had 13 tackles and a safety. "On defense, it was another outstanding performance (against Lakes)," Glashagel said. "We are playing tough, physical and fast, which has been able to cover up some of our mistakes. We have worn teams down in all phases of the game."
North Chicago (1-5, 1-2) at Grant (4-2, 3-1)
When: 7:30 p.m., today
Last week: North Chicago lost to Wauconda, 22-6; Grant def. Vernon Hills, 26-6.
Skinny: Four weeks ago, Grant coach Kurt Rous was at his wit's end, wondering how he could get through to his team. The Bulldogs had not only lost two straight games after winning their season opener, they looked uninspired while doing so. Rous said at the time that it could be a very long season. Now, he's singing a much different tune. Three straight wins can do that. The Bulldogs earned a tough come-from-behind victory over Wauconda in Week 4, a win over a much-improved Round Lake team and then a decisive victory last week over Vernon Hills, the two-time defending North Suburban Prairie Division champion. "I feel we are on the right track to the playoffs," Rous said. "Offensively, we've been scoring points and controlling the clock with our running game."
The Bulldogs top the Prairie Division in scoring at 32.5 points per game. "Defensively, since halftime (of the Wauconda game), we have been improving, culminating with last week's performance against Vernon Hills," Rous said. "All 11 guys shut down the Cougars." Against Vernon Hills, the Grant defense allowed just 16 rushing yards and no rushing touchdowns. The Bulldogs also forced 7 turnovers (4 fumbles and 3 interceptions). One of those fumbles was returned for a game-changing touchdown. "Nick Jones had an excellent game on defense," Rous said. "He had 3 sacks and the scoop and score (on the fumble return for the touchdown)."…North Chicago is a young and inexperienced team that is most vulnerable on defense. The Warhawks have given up 208 points in six games, the most in the Prairie Division. That's an average of 34.7 points per game. They also have a tough time scoring themselves. The Warhawks have scored the fewest points in the Prairie: 52 points in six games. That's just 8.7 points per game. Still, the Warhawks boast dangerous big-play potential.
"North Chicago likes to spread the field on offense: shotgun, 1-back, no-back," Rous said. "They do a good job mixing the run and pass. Their quarterback is a great athlete who can change the game in one play."
Lakes (4-2, 2-1) at Wauconda (2-4, 1-3)
When: 7 p.m., today
Last week: Lakes lost to Antioch, 30-14; Wauconda def. North Chicago, 22-6.
Skinny: It will be a clash of offensive prowess versus defensive. Wauconda is the second-highest scoring offense in the North Suburban Prairie Division at 24.3 points per game while Lakes is the second-stingiest defense in the Prairie, allowing 16.5 points per game. Lakes is licking some fresh wounds, though. The 30 points surrendered to Antioch last week is the most the Eagles have given up all season. "Wauconda is very dangerous because they do a great job of getting the ball down the field," said Lakes coach Luke Mertens, whose team has lost two of its last three games. "Defensively, we missed tackles (last week against Antioch)."
The Eagles also didn't look quite like themselves on offense against Antioch. Many of their drives stalled out in their own territory and they didn't score until the fourth quarter. "Lakes has had some different personalities over the last three to four weeks," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "But we saw them against Grant (a 38-14 Week 3 win for Lakes) and I was so impressed with them then. Their defense was as fast as can be. They ran the ball really well with Direll Clark and their quarterback (Chris Hoffman) did a great job. They might have struggled in the last few games but what that Grant game showed me is that they can be very explosive."…But Mills believes his defense is up to the challenge. He says the Bulldogs put on the best defensive performance of his 11 years at Wauconda last week against North Chicago. The Bulldogs snapped a four-game losing streak with the important win.
"We held North Chicago to fewer than 130 yards and our defense was putting us on short fields the entire game," Mills said. "North Chicago is struggling, but that team still has a lot of speed and we contained that. I thought (linebacker) Jake Sherman really had a great game. Along with Shawn Sundquist, he's our leading tackler. He was our leader there last season, too, but the difference between last year and this year is that he's playing at a much faster level. He was on the outside last year and we put him (in the middle) this year because he is so fast from sideline to sideline and he can deliver some tremendous hits."
Wauconda, which needs to win its remaining three games (Lakes, Stevenson, Vernon Hills) to have a shot at qualifying for the playoffs on points with five wins, could use a big game out of quarterback Branden Rowe. With his favorite target Jake Ziolkowski out with a season-ending wrist injury, he wasn't as prolific as normal last week. He completed 5-of-14 passes for 71 yards. "We're also going to have to run the ball much better than we have been to fill in for Jake's absence," Mills said. "Anytime you lose a player like him, it's tough."
EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC
St. Viator (1-5, 0-5) at Carmel (4-2, 4-1)
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Last week: St. Viator def. St. Ignatius Prep, 26-15; Carmel def. St. Patrick, 49-15.
Skinny: The last thing Carmel will be thinking about is St. Viator's ho-hum 1-5 record. The Corsairs know that they can't overlook any team and risk a hiccup if they want to win another East Suburban Conference Conference championship. They were thrust back into the race last week when Nazareth knocked off previously undefeated Joliet Catholic, which had beaten Carmel by a point (32-31) on Opening Night back in August. Now, Carmel, which has already beaten Nazareth, is tied with Nazareth and Joliet Catholic (and also Marist) for first place in the conference. Each team has only 1 loss. "Practice, everything, really, just got a lot more fun," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. "One of our top goals of the year was to win the conference and now we're right back in it and have a chance to win our third straight."
Last year, Carmel won the ESCC title outright. The Corsairs shared it with Joliet Catholic two years ago...St. Viator has been struggling defensively, which isn't good news considering one of the most potent offenses in the ESSC is on tap in Carmel. The Lions are allowing a whopping 47.3 points per game.
"The danger when you play a team that is struggling like this is that your kids could get over-inflated," Bitto said. "We don't want to focus on their struggles, we want to focus on ourselves and what we have to do to keep getting better. We just have to realize that for them, if they would knock us off, that would be their Super Bowl. They're going to come out with a lot of energy and we're going to have to match that."...The Corsairs have gotten a huge spark from senior running back Mike Panico, who ran in his third kickoff return for a touchdown last week against St. Patrick. "We've never had someone do that in one season before," Bitto said. "He's our Devin Hester. He should have been tackled on the return last week like three different times. But he's fast and he has great cutback moves. He's able to change directions quickly and regain full speed quickly."
Carmel is coming off a big offensive night against St. Patrick in which quarterback Brian Brennan rushed for 2 touchdowns and threw for another. Fullback Jordan Kos also scored 2 touchdowns.