Warren states its case in rout of Lake Zurich
Underrated, no more.
Unranked? Maybe not that either.
The Warren football team, unranked in the state by the Associated Press as well as in local rankings by the Daily Herald, made an emphatic case on Saturday for serious consideration by all pollsters and prognosticators.
The Blue Devils, who have been sitting atop the North Suburban Conference standings with the best defense in Lake County, lived up to their nickname and made life a living "you-know-what," for visiting Lake Zurich, which is ranked tenth by the Daily Herald and is receiving votes by the Associated Press in Class 7A.
In a game that was resumed Saturday morning after being postponed on Friday night due to inclement weather, Warren dominated Lake Zurich on both sides of the ball, turning what was a 4-point lead (7-3) when play was postponed into a resounding 34-6 Homecoming victory.
Warren, which is allowing an anemic 6.7 points per game, is now 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the North Suburban Conference. Lake Zurich drops to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the NSC.
"I think this earns us some respect. We had a lighter schedule earlier in the season so people thought we hadn't really done anything great. But I think the score of this game against a really good team shows that we're a team not to be messed with," said Warren defensive lineman Zach Pelland, who is 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and was in on one of the six sacks that Warren rolled up on Lake Zurich.
"I believe we're the most physical defense in the state. That's what we pride ourselves on. We really get after quarterbacks. We have a really good defensive line up front. We are all above 6-foot and we've got a lot of people above 250 pounds. We're big. It's hard for an offense when our defensive line outweighs your offensive line by a lot."
The Warren defense had the perfect combination of suffocating defense and lack of opportunity for the Lake Zurich offense working in its favor.
Not only were the Blue Devils relentlessly pressuring Lake Zurich quarterback Matt McGraw, they got a lot of rest in between drives to gear up for more.
While Warren ran 43 plays after play resumed on Saturday, draining the clock with long drives that kept the defense resting on the sideline, Lake Zurich ran a total of 17 plays on Saturday.
And that made life tough on the Lake Zurich defense, too.
"Our defense was on the field so much, and we kept putting our defense in horrific spots," said Lake Zurich coach Luke Mertens, whose team had five turnovers. "You can't expect your defense to pitch shutouts every single game. You've got to control the ball, that's what it comes down to."
When play resumed on Saturday, Warren was leading 7-3 and had the ball on the Lake Zurich 13-yard line. It was second down.
It took Warren six plays and three minutes to score a touchdown. Running back Martin Walker Jr., who has been a workhorse for the Blue Devils all season and was again in this game, rushed in the score from 2 yards out. It was one of 3 touchdowns on the game for Walker Jr. That gave Warren a 14-3 lead with 1:22 left.
Lake Zurich was hoping to get a few shots at the end zone before halftime, but fumbled the kickoff return and Warren recovered and the clock then ran out on the half.
Warren began with the ball in the second half and put together a drive that ate up six minutes and more than half of the third quarter, mostly on runs by Walker Jr. (97 rushing yards on Saturday alone) and Derrick McLaughlin.
The Lake Zurich defense ended up causing a Warren turnover on the drive when Hunter Welcing picked off Warren quarterback Phil Hird for the second time in the game.
That brought on the Lake Zurich offense for the first time on Saturday. The Bears ran their first offensive play of Saturday's resumption with 5:44 left in the third quarter, and struggled to get their motors going.
But they still managed a score as kicker Andrew Stange connected on his second field goal of the game, from 41 yards out. That cut Warren's lead to 14-6 with 4:13 left to play in the third. That was the score by the end of the third quarter, too.
But the fourth quarter was all Warren.
A fumble by Lake Zurich on the first play of its first possession of the fourth quarter led to a 34-yard touchdown pass from Hird to Casey Cobe three plays later against a weary Lake Zurich defense that was seemingly on the field all day long.
"We're a whole team and the defense has got to be there for the offense even when they make mistakes because we make a lot of mistakes on defense, too," Lake Zurich linebacker Luke Dwyer said. "It's tough. But Warren and their offensive line and (Walker Jr.) made a lot of good plays. (Walker Jr.) is a heck of a runner right there. That kid runs hard and is tough to tackle. Even when you think you're there, that kid finds a way to get through the smallest of gaps. Hats off to them."
Warren made its share of good plays on defense, too.
Down 21-6, Lake Zurich was marching with plenty of time (10:05 left in the fourth) to make a run.
The Bears had first-and-goal at the 7, but the Warren defense came up with three straight stops, including a sack. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the 17, McGraw lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone that seemed like a sure touchdown for receiver Jack Moses.
But Warren cornerback Josh Turner, leaping as if he were dunking a basketball, made a stunning one-handed grab over his shoulder to steal the ball away from Moses, intercept the pass, and put a hard nail in the Bears' coffin.
Warren then padded its lead by scoring two more touchdowns, a 12-yard run by Walker Jr., who literally carried nearly the entire Lake Zurich defense on his back on his way to the end zone, and a 40-yard run by McLaughlin.
"It was a good game for us," Walker Jr. said. "We really wanted to win this game because No. 1, it secures our playoff spot, and then No. 2, we lost to Lake Zurich last year in double overtime so this was a really huge game for us and we just came out and performed.
"My offensive line got a great push for me. They (Lake Zurich) knew I was going to get the ball, but they had to stop it. I was just trying to make plays, keep drives moving and help out the team."
Warren sits in the driver's seat now for the North Suburban Conference championship and a top playoff seed in Class 8A. A win against visiting Stevenson next week will secure the conference title.
"We don't get into the rankings because it's like ... we're never ranked," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said of his program being underrated each year. "We've kind of accepted that. The rankings that matter to us are the rankings at the end of the year. And those are not subjective. That's what we focus on. What other people think of us? They've got to play us to see.
"We were excited for this game because Lake Zurich is a good football team. They returned not all of their good players from last year, but a lot of them and they also added a lot of good elements. Like, they had a good quarterback last year and they have a good one this year now, too. We had to be ready for so many different things in this game and I think that really motivated our kids."