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ROCKFORD — The Cary-Grove football team will play an 11th game for the 10th straight season.
The ninth-seeded Trojans used their trademark blend of swarming defense and clock-chewing, triple-option offense to defeat No. 8 Guilford Saturday, 28-17.
It marks the 10th straight season Cary-Grove (7-3) has won a first-round playoff game. It was only the second time during the streak the Trojans have won a first-round game on the road.
"It feels great. It's kind of unbelievable how we've kept it going," said Cary-Grove defensive end Michael Gomez, who also played tight end approximately one-third of the time. "Guilford was a great team and really respectable. It was just a great game."
"It's pretty remarkable just because of what it takes to win in the playoffs," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said of the streak. "There are so many things that go into playoff games. To win 10 in a row says a lot about our kids and our consistency. We've had great leadership and great, consistent kids."
Cary-Grove will host top seed Boylan Catholic (10-0) next week. Boylan defeated No. 16 Belvidere North Saturday, 35-17.
Led at the point of attack by junior 6-foot-5, 263-pound offensive tackle Trevor Ruhland, the Trojans rushed 53 times for 243 yards. Dependable freshman Tyler Pennington gained 118 of those yards on 28 carries, none longer than 14 yards. Junior Matt Sutherland finished with 74 yards on 9 carries. Each scored a touchdown.
"We executed very well," Pennington said. " We had low pads and we finished plays."
"We knew they would probably be more athletic than us, so we wanted to just run it right over them," Ruhland said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of it."
The Cary-Grove defense held the spread offense of Guilford (7-3) to 176 total yards. Senior Delano Clanton was limited to 58 yards on 18 carries. Six of the Vikings' 10 possessions ended in punts and another ended on downs at their own 43-yard line when Cary-Grove senior lineman Emerson Kersten sacked quarterback Nino Musso from the blind side on fourth-and-5.
"Their defense was much better than they look like on film," Guilford coach Mel Gilfillan said. "Not real big kids but, man, do they play hard and get to the ball.
"They play an odd front and they mix things up bringing pressure from off the edge. They get the most out of those kids, boy."
"We played really well as a unit," Kersten said. "We had all the guys getting to the ball, which is what we emphasize in practice. That really helped. It also helped that the offense was clicking and everything just kind of jelled together."
Cary-Grove took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by quarterback Jason Gregoire, who rushed for 48 yards and threw for 62.
The Vikings answered with a 13-play drive, but they had to settle for a 32-yard Regilio Arreguin field goal with 1:14 left in the first quarter.
A 9-play, 70-yard march by the Trojans resulted in a 2-yard Pennington touchdown and a 14-3 lead. The Trojans threated to make it a 3-score game, but a holding call in the red zone led to a turnover on downs.
The Vikings took that opportunity to get back in the game. Musso spotted Sedrick Jones for a 57-yard catch-and-run. Musso then pulled his team within 14-10 when he faked a handoff on fourth-and-2 and scored on a 9-yard bootleg left with 1:41 remaining in the first half.
The Trojans stole momentum back before halftime, however, thanks to a 5-play drive that covered 58 yards in 52 seconds, aided by 2 Guilford personal fouls. Sutherland scored from 4 yards out, and Collin Walsh's extra point staked Cary-Grove to a 21-10 lead at the half.
The Trojans were at their best in the third quarter. They used almost 10 minutes of clock on two drives, the first of which was punctuated by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Gregoire to sophomore split end Jimmy Freskos for a 28-10 lead. Guilford possessed the ball twice in the third quarter but did not manage a first down.
"It starts with our preparation," said Matt Sutherland, who also plays safety. "Then we eliminated the big play. They only had one. With their type of athletes it's tough not to give up at least one."
Guilford committed 10 penalties for 93 yards. The Trojans were uncharacteristically flagged 11 times for 75 yards.
"Offensively, we had moments where we played real well and we had moments where we shot ourselves in the foot with some penalties and some dropped passes," Seaburg said. "We have to clean those things up, but I think we're going in the right direction. I mean, we're playing next week so that's all that matters right now."