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As members of Lake Zurich's football family kept congratulating and hugging him, with one adult fan even crediting him with playing the best game of his life, Chris Lehtinen explained the reason why he wears jersey No. 13.
Which isn't exactly a football number, especially for a defensive end.
"It's my family's lucky number," said Lehtinen, the Bears' long-haired, scruffy-faced senior. "My grandparents, my uncle, my mom's side of the family. ... My brothers have worn (No.) 13."
Lehtinen stood on Glenbard West's Duchon Field, his breath visible on a below-freezing day and his mud-stained white jersey sparkling in the sun following the Bears' 16-7 win over the host Hilltoppers in Saturday's Class 7A state semifinal.
Lake Zurich was lucky to have No. 13, who was all over the field and so fired up that he was even strutting on the sideline in front of his teammates as the teams were lining up for the kickoff.
Who could blame him for his enthusiasm after No. 13 had such an unlucky break last season?
Lehtinen, a two-year starter, missed the Bears' state-semifinal loss to Glenbard West at Glenbard South last year due to a meniscus injury. He watched the game from the sideline.
"It hurt that I couldn't go out and fight with my brothers," Lehtinen said. "But this year I got to go out and play with them. It's incredible."
Linebacker Colton Wagner also missed the Bears' deep playoff run last year due to a knee injury. Like Lehtinen, who recovered 2 fumbles and recorded 4 tackles for loss Saturday, Wagner made his presence felt against Glenbard West. He forced the fumble that Lehtinen recovered on second down from the Lake Zurich 20 and Glenbard West threatening to add to its 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Later in the half, Wagner intercepted Hilltoppers quarterback Drew Vogg at midfield.
It was Lehtinen who recovered a fumbled snap on fourth-and-1 from the Lake Zurich 3 after Glenbard West opened the game by driving 70 yards.
"Both of those guys are very critical to our team," Lake Zurich coach David Proffitt after his Bears earned their fourth state title-game appearance since 2006. "Each week there's a different couple of guys that just jump out and make plays."
True, team play is what the Bears are all about. And while Syracuse-bound Colton Moskal looks, physically, every bit like a major-college linebacker at 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, so many small or average-sized Bears rise to the challenge defensively every fall.
So there was Lehtinen (5-10, 185), fan-favorite Sean Lynch (5-9, 175), Dominic McNeil (5-10, 195), Sam Walstrum (5-8, 170), Dominic Scaduto (5-8, 170). McNeil had a sack to help seal Glenbard West's fate, while Walstrum notched 1 of the Bears' 3 interceptions. Rangy sophomore Trevor Staley had a pick too.
Coming up big has been the norm for LZ's tenacious defenders.
"It's just an unreal feeling right now," Lehtinen said. "We're going to state. It's been my dream. All of ours."
Lucky No. 13.
He earned it.
"Looking back at my childhood, growing up, those thoughts were going through my head," Lehtinen said before he went back to celebrate more with his teammates. "My family, my teammates, my coaches. They all just motivated me to step up and make plays today. It's all for them."
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