A sign of the changing times at Dundee-Crown is merely winning is no longer acceptable for a football program with higher expectations.
So, there was no wild celebration Friday night as the Chargers reached five victories in a season for the first time in 19 years and became playoff eligible with a 30-14 Fox Valley Conference crossover win over visiting Grayslake Central at the D-C Bowl in Carpentersville.
Because D-C (5-1), which still needs one more win to be guaranteed of its first postseason trip since 1994, understood the bigger picture after scoring 21 points in the first 8:17 and taking a 27-0 lead 8:45 before halftime.
"They came out hard and we looked dead," D-C senior cornerback Fabian Gutierrez said of the second half. "Everyone was yelling to get going and we shouldn't have to do that. We should come out hard and come out to win."
Making sure the Chargers don't settle simply for success on the scoreboard was the message from third-year coach Vito Andriola after facing the school where he pulled off a similar turnaround nearly a decade ago.
"Our program is still in the infancy of changing this thing around," Andriola said. "We're trying to do something here and we talk about playing consistent football and changing the culture. We didn't play consistent football and they battled."
But it was an uphill battle from the start for the Rams (3-3) in their third straight loss. Zach Thelen's punt pinned them at their 11 and after Gutierrez recovered a fumbled pitchout, Caleb Parson (21 carries, 130 yards) scored from 3 yards on the next play.
"I don't know if that's the worst start you can have," said Central coach Ben Ault, "but you don't come into a game expecting to give them the ball on the (3) on the first play. And their defense came out playing really well."
Gutierrez, who had 5 tackles for losses, Thelen, Tim Schanmeier, Joe Welzien and Jordan Linson helped force the Rams into three-and-outs on their next four possessions. That led to a pair of electrifying touchdowns from Malik Dunner, as he returned a bouncing punt 50 yards and raced 37 yards around the left side, and a 12-yard blast from T.J. Moss (15 carries, 96 yards).
Grayslake Central had only 32 yards of offense until Alex Lennartz (4-for-11, 74 yards) hit Matt Loeffl with a 40-yard pass and two plays later Kacey Adams scored from 29 yards with 5:13 left in the third. D-C allowed only 103 yards until Lennartz and Loeffl connected on a 34-yard score to cap an 81-yard drive with 2:32 to play.
"It all starts with practice and in practice we give our all and we all run to the ball," Gutierrez said of cutting the points allowed to 17 per game. "Coming from last year (27 points allowed per game) we've made it a long way and it's not even close to the same. It's like a whole different team. We've come together much better and we're more of a family."
Moss provided the only second-half points for the Chargers with a 33-yard field goal. Now they need to win one of their last three against Prairie Ridge, McHenry and Jacobs to end their long playoff drought.
"It's nice," Gutierrez said. "We have to keep working hard during practice and get it done."
Grayslake Central still has a chance to get there by winning at least two of its last three games.
"The physicalness they came at us with ... mentally our kids got a little down on themselves," Ault said. "But eventually we found some things that worked."