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updated: 10/27/2012 12:15 AM

Take your pick: Big plays, and players, power Lakes

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By Patrica Babcock McGraw

It could have been the punt return for a touchdown.

Or maybe it was the fumble recovery that led to a touchdown.

The faked reverse play that turned into a touchdown was also pretty good.

As for determining what was the biggest, most spectacular game-changer for second-seeded Lakes in its 35-21 Class 6A opening round playoff victory over No. 15 St. Viator on Friday night in Lake Villa, the answer might depend on who was asked.

"We made a lot of big plays," Lakes wide receiver Andrew Spencer said.

So while Spencer may have answered the question with an "all of the above," Lakes coach Luke Mertens probably would have answered "none of the above."

Sure, he was dazzled by Spencer's 89-yard punt return in which Spencer seemed like he had been wrapped up at least a dozen times before he finally found daylight.

And Mertens certainly appreciated the hard work of cornerback Drew Recker to recover a fumble on St. Viator's first possession and help set up the Eagles' first touchdown.

He was also impressed with the way Mike Brey and Direll Clark executed a fake on a reverse play that yielded a nail-in-the-coffin touchdown by Clark.

But, according to Mertens, it was the slightly-less-spectacular, straight-forward, back-to-basics running of Clark that wound up being one of the biggest game-changers of all for Lakes.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Clark used his size and strength to bowl over defenders and chew up yardage like crazy. He rolled up a game-high 242 yards on 35 carries and helped salt away the game late in the fourth quarter for the Eagles, who move to 9-1 and into a second-round game next week against Lake Forest, the only team to defeat them this season.

"Our ability to run the football was huge," Mertens said of Clark's game-changing presence against St. Viator. "That was huge for us because we knew that St. Viator has a great offense and we wanted to keep those guys off the field.

"We were able to take control the game by running the ball so well."

Lakes was up just 14-7 at halftime, on a 1-yard touchdown run by Clark and a pretty 16-yard pass from T.J. Edwards to Justin Bergeron. And St. Viator climbed to within 14-13 with 9:45 left in the third quarter when quarterback Bobby Calmeyn connected with Ben Dickey for a 15-yard touchdown pass

But then Lakes scored three straight touchdowns to take a 35-13 lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the game. Clark scored two of them.

"I was running between my guards and my center all day," Clark said. "They did a great job blocking and I just read the cuts and made some moves. I think we really took control in the third quarter because it seemed like they were getting tired. They had a lot of guys going both ways."

Yet, the St. Viator offense still had some gas in its tank in the fourth quarter.

The Lions cut their deficit to just two scores when quarterback Calmeyn hooked up with Dickey for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 9:10 remaining. They then recovered an on-side kick and had a chance to get within a touchdown.

But their drive stalled out and they didn't get the ball back until there were only about two minutes left.

"We just feel like had we made a couple of more plays, we could have won this game and been right there at the end," said Calmeyn, who completed 16-of-34 passes for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns and connected with receiver John Balas (8 catches, 162 yard) for a ton of clutch plays. "This really hurts."

St. Viator, which went 2-7 last year, wraps up the season with a 5-5 record under first-year coach Brandon New. The Lions earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2009.

"Getting to the playoffs was a huge accomplishment for us," New said. "We are changing an entire culture and making football important again at St. Viator."

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