Offense running smoothly, but defense also standing tall for Wauconda

  • Wauconda's JJ Jacobo, left, has been one of the team's offensive leaders this season.

    Wauconda's JJ Jacobo, left, has been one of the team's offensive leaders this season. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake North's Dimitri Cannon (43) reacts after sacking Round Lake's Isaiah Nixon (8) during a Week 1 football game this season.

    Grayslake North's Dimitri Cannon (43) reacts after sacking Round Lake's Isaiah Nixon (8) during a Week 1 football game this season. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/30/2021 6:30 PM

Averaging nearly 35 points per game, the Wauconda offense has certainly been a huge part of the team's 2-0 start this season.

But the defense has been on point, too.

 

The Bulldogs have been overly stingy in allowing just 10 points over the first two weeks, and in keeping their opponents' overall yardage under 160 yards in each game.

"Our defense has been playing lights out," said Wauconda coach Dave Mills, whose team cruised by Grayslake Central last week, 38-7. "For the second week in a row, they were really good at limiting the other team and that makes it much easier for our offense."

In the season opener against Lakes last week, Wauconda gave up only 106 total yards. Last week against Grayslake Central, that number went up but was still low at just under 160 yards.

"We're getting really good play up front," Mills said. "And we're defending things really well."

Hunter Rathgerber led Wauconda in tackles against Grayslake Central with 9 and he is the team's leading tackler on the season with 15.

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Mills said that Matt Leazer, Javerius McGuinn and Colin Husko are also leaders of the defense and were in on big plays against Grayslake Central.

High efficiency:

With only one punt over two games, the Wauconda offense is operating with high efficiency.

"I think that's a great indication of where we're at," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "We've got a nice balanced attack that is difficult to defend."

Against Grayslake Central last week, the Bulldogs put up 250 passing yards while rushing for 190 yards.

Veteran quarterback Nick Bulgarelli is a three-year starter and has been playing like it. On the season, he's completing nearly 84 percent of his passes for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns. He's also run for 2 touchdowns.

Bulgarelli has three receivers he targets consistently: JJ Jacobo, Javerius McGuinn and Colin Husko. Jacobo had 11 catches last week against Grayslake Central, 3 of which were touchdowns, while Husko had 9.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"With his experience, we are really fortunate," Mills said of Bulgarelli. "He's also a four-year varsity basketball player. Having been a varsity athlete for so long, he just sees things and understands things. And if we have a bad call, something he doesn't think will work, he's got the flexibility to make a change at the line to a play he likes better.

"The kids and the coaches all really trust him."

Close calls:

It was a "bend but don't break" defensive effort for Grayslake North last week in a 31-7 win over Grant.

"Grant ate up clock and got the ball inside our 10 twice," Grayslake North coach Corey Atwell said. "And both times, we stopped them. Once we got a turnover and the other time, we stopped them on downs.

"Our guys on defense really rose to the occasion. They drove on us but we stiffened up and came up big."

Senior linebacker Zaire Knight led the way for the Knights with 11 tackles while Dimitri Cannon had 6 tackles and a big sack.

Coach is a convert:

Turns out, this passing thing is kind of fun.

Grayslake North coach Corey Atwell, who has watched his team put up 86 points over the first two weeks of the season mostly by passing the ball, is coming around. "I am an old Wing-T guy and triple option guy and I guess I'm always thinking run first," said Atwell, who was part of a run-centric coaching staff at Vernon Hills for years before taking over at Grayslake North. "Against Grant (last week), I came out wanting to run the ball, and we did OK, but it ate up a lot of clock. So in the second half, I thought, 'You know what, we should do what we do best and open it up.' We did that and we found a lot of holes."

Sophomore quarterback Jacob Donohue had another big game, completing 16-of-21 passes for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also ran for 2 touchdowns.

"For a sophomore, Jacob sees the field so well," Atwell said. "And when he makes mistakes, you tell him once and he's got it. He understands what he's reading and he can adapt on the fly. And he's got a big of moxie in him too. I keep forgetting he's a sophomore."

Donohue's big target against Grant was senior Tony Hines, who rolled up 180 receiving yards and caught 2 touchdown passes.

Big change:

What a difference a week made for Round Lake.

In the season opener, the Panthers got steamrollered by Grayslake North, 55-14.

But they managed to bounce back last week to get a 28-20 win over Lakes in which they led most of the way but faced one surge after another from Lakes.

"We let them come back with a few mistakes and after last week, our kids could have given up," Round Lake coach Scott Blecha said. "But we kept fighting. I think we showed some character after Week 1. Our seniors didn't take that loss lightly. They were vocal and they made sure we worked harder to do what needed to be done to be more prepared."

After Round Lake opened with a 14-0 lead, Lakes tied the game at 14-14 and then the Round Lake defense recovered a fumble for a touchdown.

When Lakes then tied the game at 20-20, the Round Lake defense forced an intentional grounding, got the ball back and then scored again with about 3:30 left. The defense then picked off a Lakes pass on the next possession to seal the victory.

Jason Wooten forced the fumble and Jamariel Brown ran it in for the touchdown. Meanwhile, Chris Tapia had the interception.

"I'm really proud of our defense," Blecha said. "They came up with some big plays and three big turnovers."

Kalontae Hawkins also turned in a big game on the defensive side. He finished with 10 tackles, five for loss.

Quarterback rotation:

Round Lake has the luxury of having two starting quarterbacks.

Isaiah Nixon was the starting quarterback last year and Cristian Castro has emerged as starting material too. Both have started one game each so far this season.

When Castro plays quarterback, Nixon is his main receiver.

Against Lakes last week, Castro and Nixon connected for 2 touchdowns totaling 42 yards.

"It's nice to have versatility at quarterback," Round Lake coach Scott Blecha said. "Both are great athletes and we can put them in depending on who we are playing, who gives us the best look and what we need."

Castro completed 9-of-23 passes for 126 yards last week against Lakes.

Tough losses:

It's not just being 0-2 to start the season that has been rough on Lakes.

It's losing three starters in the same game to knee injuries.

Against Wauconda in Week 1, seniors Aidan Kaylor, Danny Olson and Brad Gonyea all went down, and Kaylor and Gonyea are likely out for the season.

"I can't remember that many knee injuries over the course of a season, let alone in one game," Lakes coach Jordan Eder said. "And the fact that all of those guys are seniors is really rough. To go through all that they have, and then to have that happen in their first game, you just feel so bad."

Lakes was down a total of five starters against Round Lake last week, but there were some bright spots.

Sophomore quarterback Tyson Dewey completed 20-of-29 passes for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns. Branden Nava had 3 touchdown catches and Mark Hunter rushed for 140 yards.

"Looking at those numbers, you think we should be winning games," Eder said. "We've been balanced and we're doing a lot of good things. But we just need to eliminate penalties and turnovers. We are providing too many big plays to the other team."

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