A powerful running game and an unyielding defense brought playoff-bound Maine West a 21-0 victory at Vernon Hills on Friday night.
"Our motto all year was GUTS--get us to six so we can make the playoffs which we haven't done since 2002," said coach Jason Kradman after his Warriors recorded their sixth triumph in seven outings and improved their Central Suburban North record to 3-0.
"Our job now is to compete for the conference championship. We're a little bit greedy so we still have work to do."
In contrast, Vernon Hills (1-6 and 0-3) is having a down year.
"We can't control our injuries this year," lamented Coach Bill Bellecomo. "Last year we had no injuries.
"The red zone has been awful for us this year. We got down there three times and came away with nothing."
The Cougars penetrated as far as the Maine West 12 on their first possession before a false start thwarted the drive. Devin Papiernik attempted a 45-yard field goal in a fourth-and-8 situation but his kick was off the mark.
Maine West counterattacked by driving 80 yards in 8 plays for a touchdown. Running back Jake Bellizzi accumulated 71 of the yards and put the finishing touches on the drive with an 8-yard run.
"The offensive line was making holes and I was reading them," Pellizzi said. "Ordinarily, I don't carry the ball as much as I did tonight."
Although the Warriors dominated for the remainder of the half they were unable to extend their lead.
Cougars starting quarterback Jack Himel was injured in the closing seconds of the half and was replaced by Derek Jarrell at the start of the second half. It was a damp night with intermittent light rain and drizzle, and on the first play from scrimmage in the second half the ballcarrier fumbled after taking the handoff from Jarrell.
Maine West defensive lineman Nestor O'Brien recovered at the Vernon Hills 20, and on the next play Matt Litas ran for a touchdown.
Late in the third quarter Jarrell's passing got the Cougars moving and with under six minutes remaining they had the ball on the Maine West 5. But then they were pushed back to the 8 and the Warriors took over on downs.
Early in the fourth quarter Maine West had a 59-yard touchdown pass from George Markakis to Ely Grimmer called back because of a personal foul.
On their next possession the Warriors went back to their ground attack, and Walker Hutt ran 39 yards for their third touchdown. Jonathan Fierro added his third extra point kick.
"Overall we did a great job tonight," Hutt said.
His coach agreed wholeheartedly. "Our offensive line was great when it needed to be and Jake Bellizzi and Walker Hutt were huge," said Kradman. "Our receivers and tight ends made plays when they had to.
"Our front seven did a great job defensively. They threw the heck out of the ball and our defensive backs -- Ely Grimmer, Nick Horcher, Matt Litas and Jaden Dolphin -- were fantastic."