Two teams with contrasting offensive styles will vie for a trip to Champaign when No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0) tangles with No. 10 Lake Forest (9-3) in a Class 6A semifinal at Lake Forest's west campus Saturday at 4 p.m.
Cary-Grove's run-oriented triple option offense has accumulated 4,716 yards (393 avg.) 4,021 via the rush. They key figures for the Trojans are senior fullback Kyle Norberg (6-foot-2, 212 pounds), a punishing ball carrier who possesses a combination of strength and speed, and talented senior quarterback Quinn Baker.
Norberg has rushed for 1,916 yards and 22 touchdowns on 179 carries (10.7 avg.). Those totals landed him a spot on the Illinois Football Coaches Association Class 6A all-state team, released Friday. Baker has rushed for 897 yards and 14 touchdowns on 162 carries.
"It all starts with their fullback," Lake Forest coach Chuck Spagnoli said. "That's the guy that kind of carries them. Then their quarterback is such a smart kid. He has enough ability where he can kill you if he gets loose. They're a quarterback-fullback offense, so those are the things you have to look at first if you're going to stop them, no doubt."
The Lake Forest offense has amassed 3,729 yards (311 avg.) with 2,499 of those yards gained via the pass. Senior quarterback Andrew Clifford has thrown for 2,362 yards and 17 touchdowns on 209-of-339 passing. Junior running back Hub Cirame (6-0, 190) has accounted for 1,039 of the Scouts' 1,367 rushing yards and scored 15 touchdowns.
Clifford throws to an array of receivers. Four Scouts have at least 25 receptions this season: 6-foot-2 junior David Glynn (40 rec., 623 yards, 3 TD), Cirame (45-419-2), 6-1 senior Scott Powell (36-380-4) and 6-2 senior Nick Giordano (25-432).
"They rotate a lot of guys in on offense, but (Clifford) is the one constant that's always in the game," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said.
"We're getting really consistent play from our offense in terms of getting points when they're in position to get points," Spagnoli said, "and we're not turning the ball over. That's been huge for us."
The job of stopping the Lake Forest offense falls to a Cary-Grove defense coming off its best game of the season. The Trojans posted their first shutout last week, led by great efforts from senior safety/linebacker Zach Marszal, defensive linemen Emerson Kersten and Mickey Duncan and a secondary that included Matt Sutherland, Kasey Fields, Ryan Dundon, Marcus Thimios and Jakub Ksiazek.
Lake Forest counters defensively with a pair of talented defensive linemen, senior Tom Kutschke (6-5, 240) and Trent Williams (6-1, 215). Kutschke enters the game with 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Williams leads Lake Forest with 18.5 tackles for loss. He made headlines last week when he recorded 7 of his 7.5 sacks in a 31-19 victory over Niles Notre Dame. Linebacker Jack Kutschke (6-4, 225) leads the team in tackles (58.5).
"He's a big guy," Seaburg said of Tom Kutschke. "He moves well and has good feet. Their linebackers are physical. (Jack Kutschke) has very good size. Then they have Williams. They bring him off the edge. They're fast. They're not overly big, but they are fast."
In 3 playoff games, the Scouts have allowed an average of 21.3 points. They have not faced the triple option offense this season. They were scheduled to play Lake Zurich's similar offense in Week 4, but that game was canceled due to a teacher's strike.
"Defensively, we've done a pretty good job of keeping people out of the end zone," Spagnoli said. "We're not perfect, but we don't proclaim to be either."
Cary-Grove is making its fourth semifinal appearance since 1997 and its first since the 2009 state championship season. Lake Forest is competing in a semifinal for the second time in school history and first since 1978.
The winner advances to the Class 6A state title game in Champaign next Saturday at 1 p.m. against the winner of today's semifinal between Crete-Monee (12-0) and host Lemont (11-1).