Crystal Lake South rebounds at Burlington Central
After getting shut out in Week 1, Crystal Lake South's offense responded in a big way Friday.
Sophomore quarterback Justin Kowalak threw for three touchdowns in the first half, senior Ian Gorken made one slippery move after another in the open field and the Gators spoiled Burlington Central's home opener on Rocket Hill with a 27-8 victory.
Both teams are now 1-1 overall and in the Fox Valley Conference, and the Gators are feeling much better about themselves than after last week's 34-0 loss to Cary-Grove coming into the season with 17 starters to replace.
"We were all more comfortable tonight," Kowalak said. "A lot of guys it was the first time playing varsity including me (last week). We were a little iffy. This week we were more calm, executed better. We took advantage of opportunities."
Kowalak is one of those new starters taking over for Gorken who has moved to wide receiver after starting at quarterback the past two years.
Gorken looks just fine in his new spot catching 7 passes Friday for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"Ian is a unique kid," Crystal Lake South coach Rob Fontana said. "He's so shifty in everything he does. It's exciting to watch him play and be an athlete and not have the weight of the world on his shoulders playing quarterback. I think he's enjoying doing what he's doing in the new role and we're enjoying watching it."
Gorken opened the scoring with six minutes left in the first quarter when he took a pass in the flat, juked a defender and raced in for a 7-yard score. The holder on the point after attempt, Gorken took a bad snap and scrambled to his left, finding Dylan Law in the end zone for a 2-point conversion and 8-0 lead.
The Gators were driving again when Matt Muetterties recovered a fumble for the Rockets, the only turnover in the game for either team. Quarterback Mark Ganziano ran for 30 yards to put Burlington Central in position for sophomore Gavin Sarvis to open the second quarter with a 12-yard touchdown run. Another sophomore, Nate Majewski, ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 8-8.
Kowalak and Gorken connected again to quickly put the Gators back ahead, this time on a bubble screen that Gorken turned into a 50-yard touchdown down the left sideline and a 15-8 lead with 10:20 left in the second quarter.
"He's a freak," Kowalak said. "He makes my job pretty easy. All we have to do is get him the ball in space."
Kowalak used his legs on his third touchdown pass, somehow escaping heavy pressure in the backfield while backpedaling deep in the pocket before launching a pass downfield that Law caught for a 27-yard score and 21-8 halftime lead.
On the first drive of the second half, Kowalak called his own number on 4th-and-1 and found a lane to race 43 yards for a touchdown and a 27-8 lead. Neither team scored again over the final 21 minutes.
"All I was looking for was getting two or three yards and going on to the next play," Kowalak said. "Then I saw the two nose tackles go inside of me and created a huge A gap. I took advantage."
Burlington Central (1-1, 1-1), playing without senior Jake Lenschow (shoulder), moved the ball at times but didn't have much to show for it.
That was especially true on a 17-play drive that ate up most of the third quarter but ended on an incomplete pass in the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 3.
Gators senior lineman Jason Burburija almost single-handedly wrecked that drive with a pair of sacks and two more tackles for loss. He had 3 sacks in the game.
"Jason is a heck of a player," Fontana said. "Everything he does is football related which is funny for a guy who a state qualifier in wrestling. He's a force every day."
Ganziano completed 18 of his 24 passes but for just 93 yards as only two of the 18 completions went for more than 9 yards.
"I can't be more proud of what those kids gave," Rockets coach Brian Melvin said. "To go against a school and team like that, unreal. We don't have anyone like their 5 (Gorken). The way these kids battled? We're playing against a playoff-caliber team with sophomores and we're battling. So proud of my guys."
Kowalak completed 13 of 19 passes for 219 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, throwing for 197 of those yards in the first half. Des McCarthy rushed for 127 yards on 19 carries as the Gators outgained the Rockets, 390-204.
"These guys knew we made some mistakes last week and they knew we had to fix some things," Fontana said. "I was really excited about the way these guys responded tonight."
Sarvis led the Rockets with 74 yards on 17 carries. Luke Thompson caught 9 passes for 21 yards.
"They never gave up on everything and fought us to the end," Fontana said. "I think they'll be just fine in the Fox Valley."