Glenbard East goes back to back in UEC
As the football season wears on, and the temperatures fall, a security blanket can be a quarterback's best friend.
For Glenbard East, standout senior wide receiver Deon Cook has been that safe outlet for sophomore quarterback Connor Cerkas. The duo took their connection to another level Friday night when Cook caught 13 of Cerkas' 14 completions in a 35-10 victory over visiting Larkin.
"We've been working during practice since Monday, me and him," Cook said, "just ramping up the reps because we knew we had to get this conference championship."
The runaway victory gave the Rams a share of the Upstate Eight Conference championship one year after they won the title outright with an undefeated slate.
While they will share the crown with Bartlett and South Elgin, it is the first time in school history the football team has earned back-to-back league titles.
"That's pretty special," East coach John Walters said. "We kind of grind it out with this group. All year long they've found ways to win games and they've had answers for just about everybody on our schedule, so I'm really proud of them and proud of the way they battled.
"Now we're 8-1, we're conference champs, back to back, and we're going to play a home playoff game."
Cerkas and Cook were on point early. Cook snared three passes, including an 11-yard touchdown, on the Rams' first drive.
In the second quarter the pair hooked up seven times, including another score. This time, a 14-yard strike in which Cook lept over his defender for an awe-inspiring reception.
"Coach called a 'go' and (the defender) was pressing me," Cook said. "(Cerkas) threw it up and the defender was smaller than me, so I knew it was a catch."
Larkin had no answer for Cook, who caught his third touchdown in the third quarter when he weaved 14 yards through defenders after a bubble screen pass.
Larkin did manage to notch occasional big plays, including a 37-yard halfback pass -- from Kaydin Clark to Steven Skeate -- that led to a first-half field goal and a 40-yard reverse from Jamarian Stubbs that led to a second-half touchdown.
But all too often the Royals shot themselves in the foot, committing 10 penalties.
"We tried to run the ball …. Establish a ground game and help us get some first downs," Larkin coach Matt Gehrig said. "We did that some, but we really had a lot of penalties. That really hurt our ability to continue to do that."
In terms of record, Larkin took a step back in 2019, moving from 4-5 in 2018 to 1-7 this season.
Gehrig and his staff saw positive steps throughout the year, however, and he is looking forward to starting anew.
"We improved incrementally week to week," he said. "We're trying to take some momentum into the offseason training program and take things to the next level next season."
Aside from the Cerkas-Cook two-man game, Glenbard East also had its running game going, with Mike Smith, who scored on a 4-yard run, and Chris Whitehead each gaining more than 40 yards in fewer than 10 carries. Armoni Gilford pitched in a 6-yard TD run.
The win put Glenbard East at 17-1 over the past two regular seasons.
Last year, the Rams earned the No. 2 seed in the IHSA Class 7A football playoffs before winning their opener Prospect and then falling to perennial power East. St. Louis in the second round.
The Rams will find out their first opponent and bracket on Saturday evening. Walters just hopes to fine tune some things before next week.
"Any time you go into Week 10 and it's one and done, you want to be as crisp and clean as possible," he said.