The game plan for Champaign was simple for top-seed Cary-Grove: be balanced, run what the defense allows and pound the ball with fullback Kyle Norberg.
Lake Forest's defense was prepared for all of that but there was one problem -- the heavily-armed Trojan weaponry had other ammo. And in Saturday's Class 6A semifinal in Lake Forest, it was halfback Ryan Mahoney.
And boy did he shoot down some dreams for No. 10 seed Lake Forest on the perimeter.
After Cary-Grove allowed a touchdown on Lake Forest's first drive resulting in the Trojans' first deficit all season, Mahoney took the Trojans' second offensive play 63-yards down the right sideline to even things up with 9:06 left in the first quarter. And it wasn't the last time he'd burn the Scouts' defensive backs.
Mahoney emerged with 195 yards on 11 carries as he hit the perimeter often, including another touchdown on the next Trojan drive, while Norberg eventually punched in 3 touchdowns and rushed for 174 yards as Cary-Grove, with its 500 yards of total offense all coming on the ground, rushed to the 6A state championship game with a 42-21 win over Lake Forest Saturday afternoon.
The Trojans (13-0) will attempt to win their second state title and first since 2009, will take on another No. 1 seed in Crete-Monee next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Memorial Field on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.
"I told (Mahoney) this week we felt that we would be able to move the ball with (Norberg) offensively and our game plan was to pound the ball with Kyle," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "When that's the case, Ryan's going to be called for to block and the times that he does get the ball on the perimeter he has to take advantage of it. Ryan gives us that extra motor out there, The times that he did, he had some explosive plays. That's what a back in our program has to do. More times than not you'll be blocking but when you do get the ball in your hands, make a play."
With other runs of 43 and 23 yards, Mahoney did just that. The latter being another touchdown when he took a pitch to the outside on the Trojans' second drive, blazing past everyone down the right sideline for a 14-7 lead with 3:48 in the first quarter. .
"The edge ended up looking good in the beginning and we took advantage of it, we blocked great out on the perimeter," Mahoney said. "We're playing to go to state. Everyone had so much heart, we refused to lose. We were executing well all game. It was awesome."
Even when the Scouts (9-4) tied it at 14 as the clock ran out in the first quarter on quarterback Andrew Clifford's 6-yard pass to David Glynn, Norberg re-entered the fray with Mahoney already established, creating quite the headache.
Norberg's first carry didn't come until a critical fourth-and-2 on the Scouts' 46. After he converted on fourth down, he'd run for 7 on the next play and after Zach Marszal ran a reverse for 23 yards which set up shop at the Scouts 12. Norberg was in from 3 yards out 2 plays later. Cary-Grove was up for good at 21-14 with 6:56 left in the second quarter but Norberg would score on a 24-yard run on the next drive that started at the Lake Forest 9 and was fueled by a 43-yard run from Mahoney that took C-G from its own 33 to the Lake Forest 24.
"We game-planned for them to kind of be in the box and they had guys on me and we ran perimeter plays and it worked to perfection. Ryan had some good runs out there," said Norberg, who also had a sack that added to the defensive effort that was very much important.
Norberg sacked Clifford on the Scouts' second drive that moved Lake Forest back from the 16 of Cary-Grove to the 26. That ended up being costly for the Scouts, who missed a 36-yard field goal 2 plays later which could have put them up 10-7.
Marcus Thimios picked off a pass late in the second quarter and Marszal sacked Clifford on the first play of a drive in the fourth quarter when Cary-Grove was up 35-21, which backed Lake forest to its own 8. The Scouts were forced to punt 3 plays later.
"We knew all it would take was a couple stops," Marszal said. "Once we got the first one, we got belief in ourselves and we were just trying to wear them down and our offense gave us a nice cushion."
Clifford threw to 7 different receivers on 18 of 35 passing for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns. Glynn (3 catches, 38 yards) was a part of 2 touchdowns and Geno Quaid hauled in a 32-yard pass for the game's first score. Stephen Cirame was held to 77 yards rushing on 18 carries. but the defense just couldn't find ways to stop Cary-Grove's attack.
"When you take something away, you make yourself vulnerable to other things and unless you're physically superior in every area, its hard to stop them," Scouts coach Chuck Spagnoli said. "They're a good team, I think we're a good team, too. But I don't think we're quite as good as that. I take the blame for most of what we did defensively because I'm in charge of it. I don't blame our guys, they played their butt off."