McLaughlin, Warren 'O' earn respect
The physical punishment Warren's football team delivers to opponents includes more than just what the three layers of its defense provide.
Facing a Fremd team that had allowed just 37 points with 4 shutouts in winning seven in a row, the Blue Devils made it a point to show their offense is also state-championship caliber. No offense to the defense.
Derrick McLaughlin rushed 41 times for 242 yards (both season-best totals), the offense manufactured long touchdown drives on its first three series, and No. 4 Warren beat No. 13 Fremd 31-6 in a Class 8A second-round state playoff game in Gurnee on Saturday night.
"Our offense felt disrespected," said coach Bryan McNulty, whose Blue Devils (11-0), averaging 37 points per game, will travel to No. 21 Bolingbrook (8-3) next weekend for its quarterfinal game. "Everybody talked about two top defenses (Fremd, Warren) and our offense was like, 'We're a good unit too.' They had a chip on the shoulder and they came out and they ran it."
"For sure," Warren wide receiver/quarterback Christian Phillips said when asked if he thought the offense wasn't getting proper respect. "Most people just look at our defense and they say that's why we're winning. They're definitely contributing, but my 11 guys (on offense) can go with the best of them. We're going to continue to show that."
While Warren's defense (34 points allowed all season) did its thing again, holding an opponent to single digits for the 11th time in 11 games and yielding just 46 yards on offense (-16 rushing), the Blue Devils' offense also dominated at the line. Led by McLaughlin, the Blue Devils rushed for 313 yards. The veteran line again featured Jack Hovey, Ethan McDermott, Matt Rich, Gus Krinich, Jaiden Lowery and H-back Seamus Mellican. The short-yardage package even included defensive stars Willis Singleton (blocked PAT) and Malachi McNeal (2 sacks).
"We just got pounded up and down the field," said Fremd coach Lou Sponsel, whose Mid-Suburban League champion Vikings finished 8-3. "That was just an old-fashioned butt-kicking."
It began immediately. Warren started the game with the Indiana State-bound McLaughlin carrying the ball seven times in a row for 58 yards, before quarterback Trinate Jacobs scored on a draw from 16 yards out.
McLaughlin spun into the end zone from 13 yards out on Warren's next possession, capping a 9-play drive that included 7 carries by the 6-foot, 205-pound senior.
"I grew up with him, since we were 6," McNeal said of McLaughlin. "We played on the same football team my first year. He's just a big, physical back who doesn't want to be brought down. He's going to be aggressive and keep hitting you and hitting you. He hits you like a linebacker. Sometimes he comes over and does the linebacker drills with us."
Trailing 14-0, Fremd scored on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Saxe to wide receiver Jacob Bostic with 10:23 left in the second quarter. It was only a 23-yard drive, which included a personal foul by Warren, after the Vikings recovered a fumbled punt.
But Warren answered on its next possession. Operating out of the "Wildcat" formation, with McLaughlin on the sideline after getting dinged on the previous play, Phillips (3 catches, 36 yards) sped into the end zone from 11 yards out.
McNeal's 7-yard TD run capped an 11-play, 65-yard drive, which again featured a lot of McLaughlin, on the Blue Devils' first series of the second half. Adam Saul's 27-yard field goal midway through the fourth finished the scoring.
"I got all the faith in the world in my offense right now," McNeal said. "They're balling on that side of the ball, and right now they're looking like the best offensive team in the state."
Warren linebacker Juan De La Cruz and defensive lineman Markos Sanchez recovered fumbles. Sanchez sacked Saxe late.
"We knew we were going to have to fight and scrap and do some stuff," Sponsel said. "You try to simulate in practice Ryan Saxe getting rid of the ball quickly, but you can't simulate that quickly -- and then getting put into the ground and drilled into the ground every time."