Maine West savors its CSL North crown
It was not just a win for the ages for Maine West Friday night in Deerfield. It was a win for the generations.
Jake Bellizzi rushed for a school-record 312 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Warriors drilled Deerfield 32-0 and won the Central Suburban North title outright.
Maine West (8-1, 5-0) claimed its first outright conference championship since 1963. That is most likely before any of the current players' parents were born.
And it wasn't even a Central Suburban League title back then. In 1963, Maine West was part of the old Mid-Suburban League and won the conference title by going 4-0.
"The entire culture is different from the time we first got here to now," said Maine West coach Jason Kradman, who has turned the program around in his 5 years as head coach.
"Football was an afterthought. It was something that people didn't even recognize in the pep rally. Other things became more important. Everything we tried to reserve got bumped. We changed the culture and the kids bought in."
It was also the first time the Warriors have won 8 games in a season, a feat only accomplished when the school first opened in 1959.
In addition, it broke a 13-game losing streak to Deerfield, a team that beat Maine West last year in the final game of the regular season to keep Maine West from an undisputed conference title a year ago.
"They beat us real bad five years ago and kept pouring it on," Kradman said. "I wasn't shy about trying to finish the game strong."
Maine West had trouble getting out of its own way through the first 3 quarters. The Warriors were whistled for 13 penalties for 129 yards. It cost them 3 touchdowns as well, with the Koenig kickoff, a punt return and interception return all negated due to penalties.
But Maine West still had Bellizzi.
The brutish running back, operating behind Michael Wilson, Mike Bartusiak, Costa Paschos, Lindon Ujkashi, Danny Daood, and an injured Amir Cavic, rushed 30 times, bowling over Deerfield defenders.
"I wanted to have a big-time performance in a big-time atmosphere, " said Bellizzi, who has rushed for 1,407 yards this season on 185 carries.
"It is great to see us turn around this program and where we are headed from here on it is only going to get better. It is a special moment."
Despite having 3 touchdowns called back, and being intercepted at the Deerfield 2, Maine West still led 14-0 at the half. Bellizzi busted off runs of 62 and 66 yards in each quarter to put Maine West on top.
The Maine West defense, led by Bellizzi, Ely Grimmer, Krystian Garbicz, Jaden Dolphin, Sam Corey and David Jackson never allowed Deerfield inside Maine West's 35-yard line.
After a fumble at the Deerfield 10 in the third quarter, Maine West finally blew the game open.
Bellizzi had touchdown runs of 5 and 4 yards to make it 26-0. Danny Kentgen connected with Sean Collins for an 11-yard touchdown with just over 3 minutes to play to ice the game and eliminate Deerfield (4-5, 3-2) from the playoffs.
"I am proud of our guys," Kradman said. "We have battled all year."