Fitting end to regular season for playoff-bound Lake Zurich
As the sleet fell briefly from the overcast sky above Weiss Field, it briefly resembled old Lake Zurich football.
The Bears dominated on both sides of the ball. Austin LePage intercepted a pass, something he did seemingly all the time last season.
And the players talked state playoffs.
"I'm jacked up for it," said senior offensive lineman Andrew Miller, who started for the Bears' 2017 Class 7A state runner-up squad. "Can't wait."
"We're going to get it rolling," LePage said. "We have very high confidence with each other."
Lake Zurich's 48-0 win over host Waukegan in Saturday's regular-season finale locked up a playoff berth for the Bears for the third year in a row and 16th time in the last 17 years. Lake Zurich, which finished 5-2 in the North Suburban Conference (tie for second place), will enter the postseason with a 6-3 record.
"We feel really good," Bears coach Luke Mertens said. "We've felt really good about this team all year. There are things that we've done that have been self-destructing that we have to fix. That's what we've been focusing on since about midseason, and I think those things are getting better."
Against Waukegan (0-9, 0-7), Jack Moses, another starter on last year's team, started for the second week in a row at quarterback and again provided a spark to the offense. The junior rushed for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns and passed for 71 yards.
And then there was LePage, who snagged his third interception of the season. A year ago, he set the Lake Zurich record with 10. The opportunities for him to take the ball away haven't been as plentiful this season.
"At the beginning of the season, we had Jason Sayre (linebacker) over on my side, so you don't want to throw it toward him or run toward him," LePage said. "I give a lot of credit to him and Luke (Dwyer, linebacker), as well. I guess (teams) have been looking the left side off as much as possible and have been throwing the ball away from me.
"Jack Sanborn helped a lot last year too," LePage added of the former all-state linebacker and current University of Wisconsin freshman. "(Teams) didn't want to run through him in the middle. They just wanted to air it out and not get tackled by him."
LePage nearly turned his interception against Waukegan into a Pick 6, but a penalty negated it. No matter, three plays later, Sayre (8 carries, team-high 57 rushing yards) scored from 11 yards out to hike Lake Zurich's lead to 34-0 early in the third quarter.
"He has great ball instincts," Mertens said of LePage. "And once he gets the ball in his hands, he's a pretty shifty player."
Lake Zurich, which led 27-0 at halftime, got rushing touchdowns from six players. Besides Moses and Sayre, Tommy Vages (4 yards), Anthony Mangano (13 yards), Charlie Gifford (7 yards) and Jack Dwyer (19 yards) also reached the end zone.
Besides LePage's interception, Lake Zurich's defense got 2 sacks from Marek Enters and fumble recoveries from Jackson Farsalas and George Gritsonis.
Having been through the playoff grind last year, Miller knows what he'll share with his teammates who will be experiencing it for the first time.
"I'll just tell them to make sure to remember that it's still football," Miller said. "No matter the atmosphere, no matter what team we're playing, we're still playing the game of football. So make sure to have fun, but also keep that focus up because every team that we're going to be seeing from now on is going to be a great team."