Football preview: Class 7A semifinal, Lake Zurich at Carmel
No. 4 Lake Zurich Bears (11-1) at No. 7 Carmel Corsairs (10-2)
When: 7 p.m., today
Radio: WRLR 98.3-FM (Pregame show starts at 6 p.m.)
Ticket information: Carmel officials estimate that about 4,500 tickets were pre-sold and that the standing-room-only crowd may ultimately exceed more than 7,000. Carmel has brought in nearly 1,500 extra seats for the game. Tickets are $6 each and will be on sale outside the stadium beginning at 5 p.m. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Parking information: Parking will be tight on the Carmel campus. Free shuttles from Marytown, just east of Carmel on Route 176, will be provided.
Advancement: Winner will earn a berth in the Class 7A state title game at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The opponent will be the winner of today's other semifinal game between No. 3 East St. Louis (11-1) and No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (12-0).
Last week: In the Class 7A quarterfinals, Lake Zurich def. No. 1 Rockford Boylan, 28-17; Carmel def. No. 6 De La Salle, 16-0.
First time: This game holds special meaning not just because the schools are located in neighboring towns, but also because today's matchup marks the first time in state football playoff history that two Lake County teams have faced off in a semifinal game with a trip downstate on the line.
This is Lake Zurich's sixth consecutive playoff berth. The Bears advanced to the Class 7A state championship game last season and lost to St. Rita (35-21) to finish in second place. This is Carmel's eighth consecutive playoff berth. The Corsairs won the Class 6A state championship game (54-26 defeat of Bloomington) in 2003.
Coulda, woulda: This game was on the verge of happening last year in the Class 7A quarterfinals. But Carmel lost to Rockford Boylan in the second round, 41-14. Boylan then lost to Lake Zurich, which eventually advanced all the way to the state title game.
Coaches: Bryan Stortz of Lake Zurich (23-3, 2 seasons); Andy Bitto of Carmel (87-31, 10 seasons).
Lake Zurich's key players: RB Jon Janus (107 yards vs. Boylan), RB/P Adam Simpson (95 yards vs. Boylan), FB Dan Kalcsics (108 yards vs. Boylan), QB Bobby DeLeo, LB Tyler LaFontaine, LB Brent Marks, DL John Brewer, FS/K Kevin Johnson.
Carmel's key players: QB David Venegoni, FB Geoffery Fields (99 yards vs. De La Salle), TE Jack Baucus, FS Ryan Williams, S Chris Salvi, CB Tim Cook, LB Tim Coffey, K Austin Heinrichs.
Lake Zurich injury update: Running back Jon Janus is now close to 100 percent after suffering a shoulder injury against Rolling Meadows in the second round. Before last week's quarterfinal against Rockford Boylan, he practiced sparingly, but managed to roll up 107 yards in the game. Adam Simpson is also in better shape after aggravating a groin injury against Rolling Meadows. Linebacker Dylan Becker, who tore the MCL in his knee late in the regular season, made his return last week and is healthy.
Carmel injury update: Carmel quarterback David Venegoni was at about 75 percent strength last week, thanks to an ankle sprain. He is now close to 100 percent.
The skinny: For fans who like nuts-and-bolts football, this is their kind of game. Expect lots of running and lots of hard-hitting, stingy defense. The teams have rushed for about 6,000 yards between them this season and boast two of the better defenses in the area. "We both run the ball a lot. I mean, they have three really good backs who can all run hard with the ball," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. "But we can run the ball, too. The bottom line is that whoever is able to run their offense and hold onto the ball will win this game. The thing is, both teams have very tough defenses, too. So we could see a 3-0 game, or a 0-0 game with 67 overtimes."
Getting defensive: Lake Zurich has allowed a measly 7.8 points per game this season. But in the playoffs, that number has gone up to 13 points per game. Carmel has given up 14.4 points per game, but has gotten tougher over the course of the playoffs. The Corsairs have allowed just 9.7 points per game over the last three weeks "Carmel is going to be a challenge for us defensively because they run that triple option and create different matchup issues than we're used to," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "We're really going to have to be disciplined and play assignment football."
Hype factor: Plenty of kids from Lake Zurich attend Carmel. And dozens of boys from both Carmel and Lake Zurich grow up playing youth football together. Clearly, this game will carry some emotion with it. "Our kids are definitely excited to play in this game," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "They know what's at stake. But the added incentive is that we're such close neighbors that there's almost a rivalry kind of feel to this game."
Crazy factor: If you think the nutty behavior of fans is reserved only for professional and collegiate sporting events, think again. Not only have tickets to this game been selling like hotcakes, seats have been going fast, too. Or at least fans are attempting to make that the case. Carmel coach and athletic director Andy Bitto says that people have been trying all week to tie down blankets and signs on the bleachers to stake out their seats. "I've got to keep those gates (to the stadium) locked at all times. People are trying to get in there constantly," Bitto chuckled. "It's been crazy. Come early. That's all I can say."