Football: Scouting Cary-Grove at Libertyville

  • Cary-Grove's Matt Sutherland dodges a tackle attempt by Geneva's Nick Carlton in the first quarter of the Class 7A quarterfinal playoff game in Cary last week.

      Cary-Grove's Matt Sutherland dodges a tackle attempt by Geneva's Nick Carlton in the first quarter of the Class 7A quarterfinal playoff game in Cary last week. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Libertyville's Jordan McInerney sacks Addison Trail quarterback Ryan Zygowicz during the Class 7A football playoff action.

      Libertyville's Jordan McInerney sacks Addison Trail quarterback Ryan Zygowicz during the Class 7A football playoff action. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/21/2014 4:49 PM

Head football coaches Mike Jones and Brad Seaburg were still assistants and this year's seniors were 8-years-old when Libertyville and Cary-Grove last met.

The Wildcats prevailed 13-3 on a wet, blustery Champaign evening to win the 2004 Class 7A state championship game at Memorial Stadium.

 

The teams meet again 10 years later in a 7A semifinal on Saturday at 3 p.m. as host Libertyville (9-3) seeks its first berth in a championship game since 2004 against Cary-Grove (12-0), which is vying for its third title-game appearance in six seasons and fourth overall.

The teams are evenly matched if scores against a common opponent Lake Zurich are any indication. Cary-Grove defeated the Bears on the road 24-7 on Sept. 5. Libertyville won at Lake Zurich a week later, 20-10.

After missing the playoffs a year ago, the Wildcats have advanced to a semifinal behind a surging defense. Libertyville allowed 17 points combined in playoff wins over Lincoln Park (47-0), Addison Trail (17-7) and Fenwick (26-10).

That unit is anchored by ends Jordan McInerney, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior, and junior Ben Kimpler (6-6, 205). McInerney registered 5 sacks against Addison Trail. Several players rotate in at defensive tackle.

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The next line of defense includes senior linebackers Aleks Dragin (6-2, 220) and Pat Ryan (6-1, 195) and junior linebacker Kyle O'Malley (6-4, 205).

"We're playing better and better each week and things are just clicking right now," Jones said of his defense. "Addison Trail, Fenwick and Cary-Grove are all run-oriented teams, and after Addison Trail and Fenwick, we feel pretty confident that we are playing well versus the run.

"Cary-Grove is a little different animal, though, with its triple option. It's a style that we really don't see much. Mundelein runs a triple option, but Cary-Grove has much different types of players."

It shapes up to be a battle in the trenches between the big, physical front seven of the Libertyville defense and the punishing Cary-Grove offensive line, an unrelenting force 12 previous opponents have failed to stop, led by Notre Dame commit Trevor Ruhland (6-4, 280) and powerful four-year starter Michael Gomez (6-0, 260). Ruhland and Gomez were named this week to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 7A All-State team.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Offensively, I think we've got to control the line of scrimmage," Seaburg said. "They play a lot of defensive linemen. They have some guys who can cause problems for us and what we want to do on offense as far as their length and their size. They've got a lot of good players in key positions."

The Cary-Grove triple-option offense averages 44.2 points per game and has scored 35 or more in 11 of its 12 outings, led by fullback Tyler Pennington. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore has carried 216 times for 1,533 yards (7.1 avg.). He is the school's new single-season record holder with 29 touchdowns.

Last week against Geneva, Pennington ran for 111 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half alone. When the Vikings began to contain him in the third quarter, Cary-Grove quarterback Jason Gregoire adjusted by keeping the ball more often. He rushed for 108 of his 131 yards and 3 touchdowns in the second half.

Gregoire has rushed for 695 yards and 9 touchdowns and thrown for 635 yards and 8 touchdowns on 34-of-59 passing (57.6 percent).

Libertyville boasts an All-Stater of its own in junior quarterback Riley Lees, who has rushed for 34 touchdowns and thrown for 12. In 3 playoff games, Lees has amassed 501 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns in 46 attempts. Scoring runs of 47, 60, 60 and 80 yards have boosted his postseason average per carry to 10.9 yards.

"He's something special," Jones said. "He's such a competitor and he feels like he can score a touchdown on every play. Sometimes we have to remind him that 4 yards here and there is OK, too."

Libertyville junior running back Noah Moderwell and seniors Sean Ferraro and Taylor Rossmann have combined to rush for 200 yards in 40 tries since the playoffs began.

"You have to contain the quarterback," Seaburg said. "He's accounted for 44 touchdowns and he's just a special player. He has good breakaway speed and he runs the offense real well. I think his numbers jump out so much that everything starts with him defensively. If we can slow him down, that will give us a chance to win the game, for sure."

Lees has completed 12 of 38 passes in his last 3 games (31.6 percent) for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception.

The Cary-Grove defense is led up front by Gomez (5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss), Ruhland (2 sacks), and Ray DiMatteo (2 sacks, 5 TFL). The 3-3-5 hybrid is stocked with ball hawks, like Zach McQuade (6 interceptions), Larkin Hanselmann (5), Willie Hartke (4), George Hartke (3) and Matt Sutherland (2), all seniors.

The Trojans forced 6 turnovers last week, including 5 interceptions. McQuade, who made 3 picks himself, said he and his fellow seniors have anticipated this opportunity for years.

"Even when we were younger we've all kind of known that this is the year we can do big things," McQuade said. "We know we can. And we're close. We're close."

Patricia Babcock McGraw contributed to this report

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