Warren can't crack Lincoln-Way East's defense
DeKALB -- The Warren football team met up with a defense on Saturday night that is even stingier than its own.
Or at least on this night, it was.
The Blue Devils, allowing just 3.1 points per game and pitching six shutouts over 13 games for the toughest defense this season in Lake County, were stymied on the offensive side of the ball in the IHSA Class 8A state championship game at Northern Illinois University by a Lincoln-Way East defense that allowed 6.7 points per game over the season, but was downright suffocating in its final test.
In frigid temperatures and driving rain, Warren just couldn't get anything moving offensively, and was held scoreless in its first state title game, losing 12-0 to Lincoln-Way East, a three-time state champion with two titles in the last three years.
The Blue Devils, who close the season with a 13-1 record, finished with just 36 total yards of offense yards and 3 first downs.
Meanwhile, Lincoln-Way East, which closed out a perfect 14-0 season to match its perfect 14-0 state championship season of 2017, got 2 field goals and a late third-quarter touchdown run by Michigan-bound running back AJ Henning.
"They are an extremely fast defense," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said of the Lincoln-Way East defense. "They aren't as big as our defense, but they are fast.
"They get to the ball and they are exactly where they need to be. I thought they out-competed us at certain times as well. We just weren't ready for what they had. So hats off to them and their defense. We played good defense, but they were really exceptional tonight."
While the Warren defense, led by captains Juan DelaCruz, Willis Singleton, Seamus Mellican and Josh Turner, couldn't keep Lincoln-Way East off the scoreboard entirely, the Blue Devils certainly made life difficult.
The Griffins mustered only 163 total yards, including zero passing yards, and 8 first downs.
Henning, called an All-American by Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar, finished with 125 yards on 29 carries, but had just 69 yards outside of his one breakout run, a 56-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter that really put this defensive struggle out of reach for Warren.
"You know, we looked at the scores from this season and we felt pretty good that we hadn't let any team score more than two touchdowns in a game on us," Zvonar said. "But then we looked at (Warren's) scores, and they hadn't let up more than one touchdown in a game. You don't see a high school defense like Warren's very often. It's maybe the best I've ever seen.
"Our guys, I think they wanted to prove that they deserved to be in that conversation, too. Having that zero on the scoreboard is something that you don't expect in a state championship game. We knew it would be a low-scoring game and maybe come down to the kicking game."
Lincoln-Way East kicker Dominic Dzioban ended a futile first half for both teams by nailing both of his field goals in the final three minutes of the second quarter, a 46-yarder and a 45-yarder. Dzioban will be kicking next year at Miami of Ohio.
Those field goals gave the Griffins a less-than-comfortable 6-0 lead at the halftime break.
At that point, Warren had minus-11 yards of offense and zero first downs. Lincoln-Way East wasn't much more productive, with 45 yards and 5 first downs.
Penalties also hurt the Blue Devils. They racked up 12 penalties for 117 yards and also had a fourth-quarter touchdown called back because of a penalty.
But the lack of offense and some unfortunate mistakes can't tarnish what will go down as the best season in Warren football history.
"We had a great season," said Singleton, a 6-foot-2 defensive lineman who will be playing at Iowa State next year. "It hurts to end this way for our seniors. But you know, we paved the way for people in the future who will play under Coach (McNulty). Even though it hurts, I'm proud of our team."