Cary-Grove's tradition of football excellence, like Lake Zurich's, starts with its triple-option offense.
Friday night against visiting Lake Zurich, Cary-Grove started with ... a pass.
Which worked excellently en route to a 21-6 win.
Trojans senior Zach Marszal squeezed quarterback Quinn Baker's sideline screen, a borderline lateral, and gained 7 yards.
"Every time we complete a pass it's really exciting," Baker said with a smile. "I can't remember the last time we (opened a game with a pass). I'm pretty sure we did not do it last year."
The run-oriented Trojans didn't exactly run with a game plan of throwing the ball. But eight plays after Baker's completion to Marszal, Ryan Mahoney ran a deep post and Baker found him in stride over the middle for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
"We feel we got some pretty good athletes," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "Quinn threw a nice ball, and Ryan went and got it."
"We drew that up a few weeks ago, and it worked really nice," Baker said. "I think it really gave us a nice momentum boost."
Baker never threw another pass. Lake Zurich never recovered.
In a battle of perennial Class 7A state powers, Cary-Grove prevailed on a cool night in front of a large crowd, improving to 2-0, while dropping Lake Zurich to 1-1.
"I think you see two teams that have very, very good team speed, hit very hard and play football the way the game should be played," Seaburg said. "Lake Zurich's kids play very, very hard. We were just fortunate to win. They're a great program."
Baker engineered long scoring drives on Cary-Grove's first two possessions of the game. After his TD throw to Mahoney capped a nine-play march that covered 81 yards, Trojans fullback Kyle Norberg barreled in from 2 yards out to make it 14-0 with 9:41 left before halftime. The drive took 16 plays and covered 77 yards.
"They play fast -- and low," Bears senior free safety Grant Soucy said. "I guess that was the hard part. They always keep you on your toes because you never know who has the ball. We just got outplayed."
Baker scored on a keeper from the 1 with 3:44 left in the third quarter to make it 21-0. It was the Trojans' first possession of the second half. They marched 84 yards on 12 plays, with the elusive Baker twice scrambling for first downs, including once on fourth-and-4 from the LZ 16.
Baker carried the ball a hefty 31 times, gaining 121 yards. Mahoney finished with 83 rushing yards on 13 carries, and Norberg had 51 rushing yards.
"They're a great team," Lake Zurich junior defensive back/running back Sean Lynch said. "Take nothing away from them. They play a really similar style to us. We knew they were going to come out fighting. We knew it was going to be a close game. We just didn't make plays when it counted."
Lynch made a play for Lake Zurich when, after the Baker TD, he returned the ensuing kickoff 68 yards to the Cary-Grove 20.
"We were just looking to make plays however we could," Lynch said. "I got the ball and had great blocking in front of me. I just saw a seam and I took it."
Five plays later, Lynch sprinted into the end zone from 8 yards out with one minute left in the third.
But Lake Zurich never got inside C-G's 40 the rest of the game. Norberg and middle linebacker Brock Bussenger helped lead a defensive effort that limited the Bears to 192 total yards (163 rushing).
"This is always a good matchup," said Baker, who helped the Trojans win 10-7 at Lake Zurich last year. "Both sides have a really good fan base. (Lake Zurich) brings a lot of fans, and that just adds to everything. They are a really good football team. They fought hard."