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DeKALB -- Fans in the student section at Lake Zurich football games like to wear white shirts to create a uniform "white-out" in the stands.
During the playoffs this season, those same students started throwing white powder into the air prior to kick-off to enhance the "white-out" effect.
"Our student section has been unreal this season," Lake Zurich senior running back/defensive back Sean Lynch said. "I think they're using baby powder out there."
On Saturday before the Bears' Class 7A state championship game against Mt. Carmel, the powder looked like thick smoke as it wafted through Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University.
Unfortunately for Lake Zurich, defeating Mt. Carmel on this particular day would have required even more smoke, some mirrors and the magic of David Copperfield, David Blaine and Harry Houdini put together.
The defending state champion Caravan pounced early by converting 2 Lake Zurich fumbles into touchdowns and then never gave Lake Zurich even a glimmer of hope in cruising to an overwhelming 30-0 victory. Mt. Carmel, which won the Class 8A state title last year, notched the 12th football state title in school history and the 11th of head coach Frank Lenti's legendary 30-year tenure.
"When we started the playoffs, we told the kids that we had the chance to do some really unique things if we could get to the state title game," said Lenti, whose team finishes with a 13-1 record. "We played (in the state title game) the last year at Normal (Illinois State) and then the first year at Illinois. We played (in the state title game) the last year at Illinois and now the first year at NIU. And with this 7A state title, I believe we're the first school in history to win the state championship in four different classes. We've won it in 5A, 6A, 7A and 8A."
Of all Mt. Carmel's powerhouse teams, Lenti says that this defense, which limited Lake Zurich to just 71 total yards and 4 first downs, may be among the best in school history. The Caravan is certainly a star-studded cast, boasting three Division I defenders in linemen Steve Richardson (Minnesota) and Enoch Smith Jr. (Michigan State) and cornerback Deontae Brown (Western Michigan).
"I don't like to use the word 'best,' but it's one of the best (defenses) we've had," Lenti said. "Those guys are right up there."
While the Mt. Carmel defense stifled the Lake Zurich offense and caused turnovers, the Mt. Carmel offense cashed in quickly.
When Lake Zurich (12-2) fumbled a Mt. Carmel punt on the first series of the game, Mt. Carmel scored in two plays. A Lake Zurich fumble five minutes after that was turned into a Mt. Carmel touchdown four plays later.
By the end of the first quarter, Lake Zurich was down 14-0. Both touchdowns were short runs by Mt. Carmel running back Matt Domer, who will be playing at Illinois next year. Domer was a workhorse for the Caravan, rolling up 176 yards on 35 carries.
"This entire season, we've tried to have a 1-0 mentality. We make a good play, we get over it. We make a bad play, we also get over it and get back to it," said senior running back Sean Lynch, who made both of the early fumbles. "My teammates were supporting me the entire time. When we make mistakes, we just try to support each other like we have all season.
"Just because we had our backs against the wall, we weren't going to give up. That's just the way Lake Zurich is."
Lake Zurich might not have given up, but Mt. Carmel also didn't let up.
The Caravan scored on its first possession of the second quarter when quarterback Marko Boricich hit Christian Searles with a 21-yard touchdown pass. That gave Mt. Carmel a 21-0 lead at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, Mt. Carmel put together a long drive and marched to the Lake Zurich 1-yard line. But a fumble on 3-and-goal was recovered by Lake Zurich. And that seemed to give the Bears and their white-clad fans some life.
But on the very next play, Lake Zurich quarterback Noah Allgood, who was rushed and hurried and pressured all game, was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
"Their defense was really firing off the ball. They were really fast, all of them," said Allgood, who was sacked four times. "They brought a lot of blitzes. It was tough on us."
It was also tough for the Lake Zurich offense to chip away at its deficit. The Bears had the ball for only about 13 minutes while Mt. Carmel had it for 35 minutes.
Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said prior to the game that time of possession would be crucial for his team, that his offense having the ball would be his team's best defense.
But just because that game plan didn't work out so well, Proffitt didn't lose sight of the big picture.
"These kids will fight you to the end," Proffitt said, as some of his seniors flanked his side at the postgame press conference. "The score might not be indicative of what they're made out of, but gosh dang it, I'd go to war with any of them, anytime, anywhere. That's a real testimony to their character and their families. I'm very proud of them."