Daily Herald's 2017 Season Coverage
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updated: 10/17/2013 11:02 PM

Lakes' Edwards itching to get back in

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In college at Western Michigan, Lakes quarterback TJ Edwards will likely play safety.

And that sits just fine with him, considering he grew up playing defense.

But for now, Edwards is still a quarterback and he wants to enjoy his final days under center. Problem is, he's also under strict orders. And those orders, from his doctor, have him sidelined.

Edwards, who has rolled up 1,080 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns this season, has been hit with the injury bug, first with an injured hand and now with an injured knee.

The 6-1 Eagles, who recently wrapped up their third straight North Suburban Conference Prairie Division title, are hoping Edwards will be back for the playoffs. But for now, they'll have to close out the season and try to secure a top seed without him.

"TJ is the ultimate competitor and he's not at all happy with watching from the sideline," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "This is his last go-around at quarterback and he's very bummed out to be missing games. But I know he's doing everything he can on his end to get back."

Two weeks ago, Edwards hurt his hand against Grant when a defender hit it while he was trying to pass the ball. Last week, in Lakes' 42-7 victory over Vernon Hills, Edwards played only defense, until he hurt his knee.

Doctors say he has a partially torn meniscus. Surgery is a possibility.

"There's a chance TJ will be back, but there's a chance he won't be," Mertens said. "It's part of sports and our kids know that things like this can happen.

"We hope that TJ will be back, but we aren't going to make excuses."

Plan C:

Instead of making excuses for the loss of star quarterback TJ Edwards, Lakes is going with its back-up plan, or rather its back-up to the back-up.

Back-up Ethan Sage got the nod last week to replace Edwards and wound up completing 7-of-8 passes for 95 yards against Vernon Hills. He also ran for 29 yards.

But then Sage went down with an injury of his own and that brought in third-string quarterback Jake Balliu. Balliu completed 2 passes and ran for 66 yards.

"Jake has been one of our unsung heroes in all this," said Lakes coach Luke Mertens, who also added Mike Brey to that list. "They do so much for us. Jake can play quarterback, wide receiver, running back, cornerback and he returns punts and kicks.

"He's been thrown in, but he's done really well and I expect our offense to run as it normally would."

Mertens added that Brey, a running back, linebacker and punter has been equally as valuable this season for his versatility.

"Those two have been lifelines for us this season," Mertens said of Balliu and Brey. "They've enabled us to have a lot of success."

4 flags:

Penalties have been a point of emphasis at Lakes this season.

After a 15-penalty game against Wauconda in Week 5, it kind of had to be.

Lakes coach Luke Mertens and his staff began running numbers and watching film and studying trends to come up with a realistic goal for their players regarding penalties.

"We came up with the number 4," Mertens said. "We think it's a fair number for penalties. We looked at this year and last year and what we're trying to do (during a game) and the plays we're trying to run and we feel that we should really be at 4 penalties a game or under."

Last week against Vernon Hills, Lakes was tagged with 6 penalties. But for the most part, the Eagles have been below 6 penalties per game since the Wauconda game.

However Lakes' season average of 9 turnovers per game is still skewed from the Wauconda game.

Plan D:

Like Lakes, Grant has had a lot of different players take reps at quarterback this season.

Although unlike Lakes, which is on its third quarterback due to injury, Grant is currently on its fourth.

Starter Jake Bychowski went down with an ankle injury against Libertyville in Week 3. Since then, the Bulldogs have tried Simeon Tate, Jason Bach and now Spencer Lhotka at quarterback.

Grant coach Kurt Rous liked what he saw out of Lhotka last week in a win over Round Lake. Lhotka completed 6-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown.

"He's a good leader, he throws a nice ball and he's good under pressure. He's very focused," Rous said of Lhotka. "We were using him as a running back, so the good thing is that he's able to make the right reads and he knows where people should be in our (option) offense."

Grant's option offense took a significant hit when Bychowski, a run-oriented quarterback, went down. The Bulldogs have run for about 1,000 total yards so far with two games left. Last season through nine games, Grant had rolled up more than 3,000 yards.

600 club:

The Warren offense is setting a high bar.

For the second time this season, the Blue Devils reached the eye-popping 600-plus-yard mark in a game. They rolled up 617 yards last week against North Chicago. In Week 5, it was 660 yards against Libertyville.

Warren coach Dave Mohapp says it's no coincidence that the big numbers are coming now. This is the third year of the Blue Devils' switch to the spread offense. For years before that, Mohapp's teams ran the traditional I-formation.

"Any time you make a switch to the spread offense, I think this is the potential benefit, a lot of yards and scoring," said Mohapp, whose team also is tied for most scoring in the North Suburban Lake Division (with Lake Forest) at 35.6 points per game. "You're spreading the field, you're stretching the defense, you're giving your players a chance to work in the open field."

Mohapp, a smash-mouth runner in his high school and college days, wasn't sure about the switch to the spread at first. But he was willing to try something new because the I-formation wasn't working as well as it did earlier in his 17-year tenure at Warren.

"We switched to the spread in 2011 and I remember in 2010, we were 6-4 but we really had a hard time moving the ball," Mohapp said. "We had always had some big, strong backs at Warren. We were really lucky to have guys who you could just put back in the I and give the ball to them 18 to 20 times and you could just ride that horse.

"But (in 2010) it was very different and we really struggled. We just couldn't get our offense going like we had in the past. We knew we had to make a change."

The change has benefitted a passing quarterback like senior Andrew Nickell. He's passed for an average of 264 yards per game this season, with a high of 338 yards against Libertyville.

"I think you have to make sure you have a balanced offense in high school football these days," Mohapp said. "The game has become much more sophisticated and it's kind of followed the college and pro game where there's more passing. You've got to be able to run and pass the ball now."

Maxing out:

As much as Warren coach Dave Mohapp is in favor of adding a strong passing attack to his offense, he still likes to run the ball.

So there may have been no one happier for Max Sorby last week than Mohapp, an old running back (Wisconsin and Woodstock) himself.

As part of Warren's 617-yard explosion against North Chicago last week, Sorby rolled up an amazing 295 rushing yards on 28 carries. He also scored 2 touchdowns.

"We've had a lot of really good backs here at Warren, guys like Matt Van Daele, Mitchell Moore, and Greg Kennedy," Mohapp said. "But, I'd have to go look at the books because I'm not sure we've ever had a guy get almost 300 rushing yards in one game.

"I'm very, very happy for Max. He's such a hard-working, coachable, versatile player. That was a great game for him."

It was a busy game for Sorby. He also played some reps at cornerback.

"I know Max was probably pretty exhausted when that game was over," Mohapp said. "He made some big plays and also really helped us on defense."

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