As Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt addressed his team following the Bears' North Suburban Conference Lake Division contest at Warren, he paused and had to remind himself that the contest against the Blue Devils had a little more meaning than just another game on the schedule.
"Oh I almost forgot," Proffitt told his Bears with a grin. "You are conference champions -- congratulations."
The loud roar from the battered and beat up Lake Zurich football team followed a hard-fought 17-13 win in the final game of the regular season for both teams.
Lake Zurich (7-2, 5-1) earned a share of the NSC Lake crown with Stevenson, a 28-14 winner at Zion-Benton on Friday night.
It's the second straight conference crown for the Bears, and their third since joining the conference.
Warren (5-4, 3-3) will likely qualify for the playoffs based on its playoff point total of 46.
"We are so banged up and had to do everything we could to get ready for this game," Proffitt said. "We tried to keep the kids' focus just on this game and on nothing else -- no distractions."
One Bear that knew all about the high stakes of the game was junior Sean Lynch.
"We knew coming in what was at stake," Lynch said. "To win an undisputed conference title is such a huge thing for us -- something we really wanted."
The winning touchdown drive was capped by a play that has become synonymous with Lake Zurich football: The jet sweep.
Lynch (10 carries, 86 yards) took the hand-off on the sweep to the right and broke through the Warren defense for a 7-yard scoring run. The play capped an 8-play, 49-yard drive that put Lake Zurich up for good 17-13 with 5:35 left. Senior Connor Schrader, who rushed for 106 yards on 22 carries, played a big role on the drive, carrying three times to set up the short Lynch touchdown run.
"As I said last week, this program isn't so much about the coaches, it's about the kids -- and we as coaches needed to give them just a little push in the right direction, and they did the rest," Proffitt said.
Warren took the lead away from the Bears on its second drive of the second half. An impressive 9-play, 90-yard march, which included a 60-yard screen pass from Adam Reuss to Davonte Willcox, gave Warren its first lead of the night following Connor Iwema's second 2-yard scoring run of the night 13-10. Reuss was solid in the passing game, completing 17-for-26 for 193 yards.
"We are playing better and the last couple of weeks we have made improvements," Warren coach Dave Mohapp said. "We played hard tonight. We got off to a slower start than we would have liked, but we dug ourselves out."
The visitors looked to have taken complete control early in the second quarter, when Lynch hit the end zone for the first time. His 31-yard run, on another jet sweep, put the Bears up 10-0.
Warren answered just before half on a short scoring run by Iwema.