Lake Zurich doesn't make a habit of passing the football.
Crystal Lake South hopes to pressure the Bears into a new tendency when the 11th-seeded Gators (6-3) visit No. 6 Lake Zurich (7-2) in a Class 7A first-round playoff game Saturday at 2 p.m.
The Bears like to run the ball down an opponent's throat, led by 5-foot-10, 200 pound fullback Connor Schrader. The senior returned from injury two weeks ago to rush for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 21-14 victory over Stevenson, and he carried 22 times for 106 yards in last week's North Suburban Lake title-clinching win against Warren.
Lake Zurich's double-wing offense ran the ball 47 times against Warren, while junior quarterback Noah Allgood was asked to launch only 6 passes.
"We need to stop the fullback because he's the main guy," said CL South coach Chuck Ahsmann, whose team holds opponents to 110 rushing yards per game. "We need to force them into second- and third-and-long. After that, we'll see what happens. I'd like to see them throw more than 6 passes. That would mean we're playing well defensively."
The Gators will rely on playoff-savvy veterans to slow Schrader and Co., led by linebackers Dennis Gardeck (49.5 tackles, 9 TFL), Brendan Chrystal (45-6), John Fitzpatrick (34.5-9.5) and Josh Smith (34.5-7) and nose guard Nick Amren (44.5-8.5).
The first-round matchup is a juicy one between teams dripping with playoff tradition. Lake Zurich is making its 16th straight playoff appearance, a run that includes a Class 7A state title in 2007 and runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2010. Crystal Lake South is in the postseason for the 12th straight season. The Gators advanced to state quarterfinal games the last two years and have been to semifinals in 2005 and 2008.
How well do the Bears play the 3-3-5 defense, the same scheme their generous coaching staff taught the Crystal Lake South staff several years ago? They've allowed only 51 points all season, and 21 of those were surrendered to top Class 6A seed Cary-Grove in a 21-6 loss on Aug. 31. Lake Zurich otherwise recorded shutouts in 5 of its first 6 games.
The Gators counter with a strong offensive line that grew vastly stronger last week with the return of Toledo-bound tackle Boston Matthews (6-4, 265). He blew up opposing linemen and linebackers in a rout at Grayslake Central last week after missing most of the season with an ankle injury.
Matthews' return benefits senior tailback Zevin Clark, who has rushed for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns on 145 totes, and junior fullback Chris Ivers (47-347-3).
Lake Zurich's defense also must contend with emerging CL South quarterback Austin Rogers. The 6-1, 195-pound junior has rushed for 320 yards and 5 touchdowns and completed 50 of 100 pass attempts for 556 yards and 4 scores. Rogers also played cornerback situationally during the Gators' playoff push.
CL South will play on artificial turf for the second straight week after playing on grass fields for the first eight games.
"We're playing on turf, which we don't play on very often, and it's on a Saturday, when we don't play often, so it's a different experience," Ahsmann said. "I think if we remain focused, we can go up there and give them a good game."