Both defenses will be under the gun from the opening snap when Cary-Grove (13-0) faces Crete-Monee (13-0) in the Class 6A state title game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign Saturday at 1 p.m.
Though the styles differ, Cary-Grove's disciplined flex-bone option offense and Crete-Monee's explosive spread scheme bear a similar trait: massive production.
The Trojans pound away on the ground, patiently grinding out yardage until the opponent misses a defensive assignment, leading to the big play. The Cary-Grove offense has gained 4,673 rushing yards, led by bruising fullback Kyle Norberg (198 carries, 2,213 yards, 25 TD), quarterback Quinn Baker (181-998-15), and wingback Ryan Mahoney (71-802-8), all seniors.
That group will face an athletic Crete-Monee defense led by active inside linebacker Nyles Morgan. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior, already offered by Ohio State, leads the Warriors with 63 solo tackles and 30 assists. He roams behind big linemen Jonathan Schultz (6-3, 291) and Rodulfo Antuna (6-1, 297).
The secondary possesses size, averaging 6-2, 176. The Warriors have allowed more than 7 points only three times in 13 games, though they surrendered 27 last week in a semifinal win over Lemont and 32 in a second-round playoff win over Peoria Richwoods.
"They may be similar to us in that their offense may overshadow their defense a little bit, but they haven't given up a lot of points," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "Their offense has been putting up insane kind of numbers whereas their defense may be the steady unit.
"They have some size up front. Their 2-techniques are about 300 pounds each and they both can move pretty well. (Morgan) is being recruited by everyone and he's very physical. They're just solid across the board. You add (LaQuon) Treadwell on defense, and it makes them all the more athletic."
Treadwell, a 6-4, 200-pound senior, plays multiple defensive positions but is better known as the tip of Crete-Monee's offensive spear. Rated the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the country by multiple scouting services, he enters the title game with 75 catches for 1,339 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Marcus Terrell (219 of 326, 37 TD, 7 INT) has another quality target in senior wide receiver Lance Lenoir (6-1, 172). He has made 64 catches for 1,046 yards and 14 scores. Both Treadwell and Terrell were named to the Illinois Football Coaches Association all-state team as was Cary-Grove's Norberg.
The Warriors like to get the ball in Treadwell's hands underneath and let him run after the catch.
"He's better than any athlete we have," Seaburg said. "Looking at this guy, there's not a lot of holes in his game. He's 6-4, 200, he catches everything that's thrown to him and he's very physical. He plays both ways, he plays all over on defense. He's just a pretty special player.
"I think we have to get pressure on their quarterback to try to get them out of their rhythm. They'll throw the ball a lot of different ways, but I think they prefer to throw it underneath. If you can disrupt their timing, I think that will be pretty important."
The Cary-Grove defense allowed 3 touchdowns against Lake Forest last week but stiffened as the game progressed, making some key stops to help the Trojans gain momentum. That unit is led by third-year safety Zach Marszal (6-0, 182), linebacker Brock Bussenger (6-2, 205) and end Mickey Duncan (6-3, 225), all seniors.
Crete-Monee is making its first appearance in a state title game. Cary-Grove is in Champaign for the third time. The Trojans are 1-1 in title games, including a victory over Providence in 2009.