Lake Zurich's defense stymies Plainfield North
During this week of practice, Lake Zurich coach Luke Mertens called out his defensive backs and specifically told them 'this is a DB kind of game.'
Junior Austin LePage was listening.
In the Bears' Class 7A second round state playoff game with visiting Plainfield North, LePage made sure it was a "DB" kind of game. He intercepted Plainfield North quarterback Brady Miller 3 times and Lake Zurich intercepted Miller 4 times. It was part of a sensational day by the stingy Lake Zurich defense that limited Plainfield to only 254 total yards in a 27-9 win for the Bears.
Lake Zurich, (11-0), advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013 and will face St. Rita, a 26-16 winner over St. Charles North, next Saturday in Chicago.
"(LePage) has great hands and can help us in a lot of spots," said Mertens. "We warned the DBs all week that this would be a game to play DB in and he stepped up and made plays we needed."
"I know the program record is 10 (interceptions) and I have 8," LePage said. "'I tried to read him and jump the routes and I was there and jumped the routes."
The hosts jumped on the Tigers on their first possession after a defensive stop on fourth and short. Senior Joey Stutzman, who rushed for 79 yards on the day, capped a 9-play drive with a 1-yard scoring run to give the Bears a 7-0 advantage.
From there, the defense was the story for Lake Zurich as it has been known to be.
Rather than let North quarterback Brady Miller beat them with his feet, Mertens chose to make Miller pick apart his defense. The plan worked.
"It really was choose your poison," Mertens said. "Either you pressure him and let him beat you with his feet or you play pass defense and take your chances."
North took advantage of a punting miscue by Lake Zurich and moved inside the Bears' 25-yard line. But the Tigers missed a 42-yard field goal attempt and didn't get across the Bears' 30 until late in the fourth quarter.
"We felt like we could move the ball on them and we did a little in the first half," said Plainfield coach Tim Kane. "Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities we had. Give Lake Zurich credit. They made the plays when they needed to."
Lake Zurich made another one of those plays late in the first half when on third and long, quarterback Evan Lewandowski went long to his favorite target Payton Powell for 75 yards and a 14-3 advantage.
After that, the Bears relied on Stutzman and the running game. Stutzman carried the ball 9 times on a drive that chewed up better than 5 minutes in the third quarter resulting in a 27-yard field goal from Donnie Dawson.
Stutzman capped the Bears' scoring with a nifty 29-yard touchdown catch from Lewandowski. The throw was about 10 yards but Stutzman juked left, then right, then left again before hitting the blue paint of the North end zone.
"He's got some moves," said Lewandowski. "I don't know; I could learn a thing or two there."