Matt Moon's escort to the end zone for a momentum-changing touchdown in the opening quarter included one of the state's best linebackers, his Syracuse-bound teammate Colton Moskal.
Lake Zurich's journey to Stevenson next week figures to be more challenging.
Let the hype begin after Lake Zurich remained undefeated with a 40-16 win over host Libertyville on Friday night, ending the Wildcats' playoff hopes, while Stevenson was busy beating Lake Forest 20-6 for its sixth win in a row.
The North Suburban Conference Lake Division championship will be on the line next Friday night when Lake Zurich (8-0, 5-0) and Stevenson (6-2, 5-0) battle in Lincolnshire.
"We got to play a whole lot better than we played tonight," Lake Zurich coach David Proffitt said after his Bears committed 6 penalties for 55 yards and, thanks to two Libertyville TDs in the fourth quarter, allowed the most points they have in a game this season. "Stevenson is playing their best football right now. Are we playing our best football right now? I feel we're not playing as good as we could be."
Libertyville (3-5, 1-4), which will miss the state playoffs for the first time since 2010, came out inspired. After the opening kickoff, the Wildcats drove 58 yards on seven plays against the NSC Lake's best defense, settling for a 33-yard field goal by John Lubenow.
"We just came out fired up," said running back Conor Simpson, who busted off a 26-yard run on his first carry. "We were just ready to go from the start. We didn't care that they were first in state or anything like that. We wanted to prove a point."
After surrendering the game's first 3 points, Lake Zurich went three-and-out on its first series.
"We weren't ready," Proffitt said. "Why? Who knows? You see stuff like that."
When Libertyville quarterback Anthony Monken completed a short pass from his team's own 25, Lake Zurich's defense was ready. Sam Walstrum jarred the ball loose from Libertyville's receiver, and Moon picked up the bouncing football. He then sped down the left sideline, untouched, 32 yards to put the Bears in front with 8:17 left in the first quarter.
A Moon landing in the end zone had the visitors bouncing up and down.
"Scooped and scored it," Moon said. "I had Moskal and three (other) guys in front of me, and I just took it right to the end zone."
Lake Zurich benefitted from great field position the rest of the half in building a 26-3 cushion by halftime. The Bears started drives in Libertyville territory at the 21, 20 and 36. Up 14-3 after Sean Lynch won a race to the left corner of the end zone and clipped the pylon, Lake Zurich took advantage of a low snap on a punt attempt.
Six plays later, QB Noah Allgood scored from a yard out on fourth down for his first of 2 TDs. Lake Zurich linebacker Jordan Juarez recovered a Libertyville fumble, which led to A.J. Trittschuh's 29-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the half.
Bears defensive back Anthony Baca then intercepted Monken, and Trittschuh boomed a career-long 46-yard field goal with one second left in the half.
So much for Lake Zurich's slow start.
"We knew Libertyville was 3-4 and playing for their right to get in the playoffs, so we knew we had to take (the game) very serious," Moon said. "We don't look past anyone."
With its offense and defense having already scored, Lake Zurich got a special-teams TD in the fourth quarter when Tommy Clancy blocked a punt and sophomore John Strojny returned the ball 7 yards into the end zone.
"Our special teams, offense and defense were all rewarded," Moon said. "It was a fun game."
Libertyville played hard throughout, stopping Lake Zurich on fourth-and-inches early in the fourth quarter and getting a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes from Monken (19 of 33, 195 yards) to Nick Rossetti covering 55 and 8 yards.
"We never quit," Simpson said. "That was basically the motto all week."
Lake Zurich welcomed the return of running backs Dylan Schassler and Joey Holtz, who ran for 67 and 59 yards, respectively, on 13 carries each. Holtz (knee surgery) was playing in his just his second game all season, while Schassler (concussion) had not played since Lake Forest in Week 5.
Nine Bears combined to rush for 239 yards and 3 scores. Libertyville had minus-9 yards rushing.
"I'm not satisfied," Proffitt summed. "I'm happy we won. Let's get out of here."