Stutzman's drive puts Lake Zurich on the road to DeKalb
One way to tell you've made it to the big time: When your teammates name the most important drive of the season after you.
That's what Lake Zurich junior center Andrew Miller did for his teammate, senior running back Joey Stutzman.
Lake Zurich found itself in a somewhat unfamiliar position in its Class 7A state semifinal with Mt. Carmel, with the score tied 7-7 at the end of the third quarter.
But all 11 members of the Bears' offense knew who to give the ball to.
What followed was "Joey's Touchdown Drive."
The 5-foot-7 Stutzman carried the ball 9 times on a 13-play march to put Lake Zurich ahead 14-7 and carry the Bears into the state finals for the fifth time in school history.
"Joey just kept his feet pounding on that drive," Miller said. "We never take any plays off up front, because he never takes any plays off. He just pounds and pounds."
Stutzman carried the ball the final six times on the drive, including the final 3 for the decisive touchdown behind the powerful Lake Zurich offensive line of Miller, Riley Pemstein, Ian Fitzgerald, Yianni Manousaridis, Jackson Fasalas and Spencer Bacon.
"That drive was for state," Stutzman said. "We just had to pound it and pound it."
That same style of running has allowed Stutzman to steadily ascend in the school record books. With his 23-carry, 153-yard performance on Saturday, he surpassed Ben Klett for fifth place in school history. He also earned his 21st touchdown of the season, 15 of them coming on the ground.
Stutzman is quick to credit the offensive line for his success.
"Our O-line just came off the ball and punished (Mt. Carmel)," Stutzman said. "I can't get anything without that group up front. They just kept pounding on every play."
Stutzman knew even before the first snap of the game that this would be a day for running backs. His head coach Luke Mertens and his running backs coach Nate Boekholder told him early in the week that he would need to be ready. Then, pulling up to the school and seeing the wintry conditions, Stutzman knew he had to be ready.
"I just knew it was 'go' time," said of seeing the snow as he got to school. "I was ready -- we were all ready."
Likewise, Mertens and the Bears knew who they needed to get the ball to.
"All of the coaches have the utmost confidence in Joey," Mertens said. "When he gets off the bus, he doesn't scare anyone. But ask anyone -- he is as tough as they come."
Now Stutzman and the Bears have just one more step to take. The state title game against Batavia next Saturday at NIU's Huskie Stadium.
"One more," Stutzman said. "Just one more. We have worked so hard to get to this point. Now we have just one more to bring it all home."