The challenges the Lake Zurich football team faced this week extended well beyond its Class 7A matchup with No. 4 seed Fenwick.
Midweek, the Bears learned they'd lost junior standout linebacker Jack Sanborn to mononucleosis. Then just hours before kickoff against the Friars on Saturday night at Triton College, it became clear that coach Dave Proffitt and assistant head coach Chad Beaver had been put on paid administrative leave and would not be with the team.
Finally, before the No. 13-seeded Bears knew it, they found themselves down two scores to the Friars midway through the second quarter.
Instead of succumbing to the pressure of the moment, Lake Zurich faced the challenge head on.
The Bears had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter in Fenwick territory but couldn't overcome the Friars defense. In the end, Fenwick held off the visitors 20-14 to earn their second trip to the state quarterfinals in three years.
Fenwick (10-1) will travel to Jacobs next weekend. Jacobs earned its quarterfinal spot by downing Batavia 28-14. Lake Zurich ended its season 8-3.
"Our offense shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times and we really weren't doing some of the things that we were doing well in the first half," said Randal Dunbar, who is currently the Freshmen A coach and functioned as the Bears' interim coach Saturday. "Tonight's effort says a lot about how close this team is as a group and how hard they worked together as a family."
Early on, the contest looked like it would rival some of the wild downstate playoff games from earlier this weekend, such as the ones which saw downstate Peoria and Deer-Creek Mackinaw put up 96 and 91 points, respectively.
The Friars went to the air early with senior quarterback Jacob Keller finding Mike O'Laughlin and Sherman Martin III for big gains. Keller called his own number for the first Fenwick score from a yard out giving the hosts a 6-0 advantage.
Just 58 seconds later, Lake Zurich junior Joey Stutzman outran the Friars defense for a 70-yard score, and the Bears had their only lead at 7-6. Back and forth they went again as Fenwick answered two minutes later when Keller hit Martin for 36 yards and a 13-7 advantage.
From there the game settled in to a normal pace. But the mountain got tougher to climb for the Bears as Connor Lillig carried it in from 6 yards out to move the Friars to a 20-7 advantage.
"We just knew we were never going to quit no matter what the score was," said Stutzman, who closed out a sensational junior season with 145 yards on the ground. "I wanted this so bad for our seniors. It hurts so much that we can't get back on the field together one more time."
Lake Zurich moved the ball effectively in the second quarter and pulled within 20-14 on a 49-yard strike from Evan Lewandowski to Jake Stevens. But two drives stalled inside the Fenwick 25 and one more inside the Friar 30.
"This was the type of game we expected from Lake Zurich," said Fenwick coach Gene Nudo. "They had some injuries and moved some guys around, but we expected a tough, hard-fought, physical game and that's exactly the way this one played out."
The Bears were forced to move players around on defense due to injury. Senior Michael Bertoia was injured just before halftime and didn't return.
"The adversity we faced with the injuries tonight was all about preaching 'next man up,' " Dunbar said. "We had sophomores, juniors, or seniors or whoever was the next guy step in and step up -- these guys played one heck of a game, I'll just say that."
Lake Zurich got the ball back one last time with 3:05 to play but an interception by Fenwick linebacker Brett Moorman ended the drive.