Big 4th quarter sends Lake Zurich past Wheaton North
Lake Zurich's Tyler Erkman couldn't believe his good fortune.
The senior wide receiver/defensive back had touched the ball just three times in the first three-plus quarters of Saturday's Class 7A second-round playoff game against defending champion Wheaton North.
Considering Erkman's vast accomplishments, it was a rare limited touch-day for the standout two-way player. That all changed within a few seconds midway through the fourth quarter.
On third down and 8, Erkman broke free for a 56-yard touchdown to spark the Bears to a 14-6 victory over the Falcons at Jim Rexilius Field.
On his winning TD run, Erkman sped past several defenders, busting loose for his only TD of the game. Several times on his run, Erkman made a point to look back behind him to make sure no defenders were within striking distance before hitting pay dirt with 5:19 left in regulation.
"We've been practicing that play for the last three weeks, and were finally able to run it," Erkman said. "We got a great push up front, and I was able to find the seam and take off. I had one move and kept looking back for someone and no one was there."
The Bears (10-1) weren't intimidated playing on the road against the state champions, not after winning the rugged North Suburban Conference and owning a deep program history of success in the playoffs.
Lake Zurich, who has won nine games in a row since dropping a 21-10 decision to St. Charles North in Week 2, advanced to play Pekin (11-0) in the quarterfinals next weekend.
Lake Zurich scored back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter, overcoming a heavy wind to methodically move the ball down the field to chew up clock. Erkman, who moved into third place on Lake Zurich's all-time for receiving yards last week, finished with two carries for 58 yards and added two receptions for 20 yards to raise his season totals to 30 catches for 518 yards and seven TDs and eight rushes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
"We did it old-school," Erkman said. "The defense played phenomenal all game. The offense put together drives when we needed to. They had eight guys going both ways, so we knew all week coming into it, if we were able to establish the running game, that was the key to victory."
Lake Zurich senior running back/linebacker Cal Grabowski lived up to his last name, gobbling up yards in small chunks to extend drives, especially in the decisive fourth quarter. Grabowski sparked the Bears on their first scoring drive, converting a key fourth down run inside the 10-yard line. He closed out the 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown for a 7-6 lead with 10:02 left.
"We ran the ball well on that drive, and the offensive line blocked great," Grabowski said.
At 5-foot-10 and 215-pounds, Grabowski's hard running style played a big factor in the Bears' comeback win. He rushed 14 times for 52 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Lake Zurich finished with 195 yards rushing and 41 passing after compiling just 78 total yards in the first two quarters.
"On defense, we came together and played great, but just let up one big play," Grabowski said. "We shut them down the whole second half, and our offensive line got a big push. Our offense was just one it. Both of our touchdowns were hard-fought touchdowns, especially that 80-yard drive."
Wheaton North (9-2) overcame a large number of key graduation losses from last season's championship team to put together another memorable season. The Falcons looked on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinals after playing a solid game in all three phases of the game for the first three quarters.
Wheaton North senior wide receiver Karsten Libby hauled in a 56-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Max Howser in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Libby, who had four receptions for 91 yards, was the main source of offense for the Falcons. The Bears' defense stymied the Falcons, holding them to 41 yards rushing and 143 via the air. The Falcons were stung by a bad snap on a fourth down and one play in the fourth.
"Lake Zurich seized momentum at the end of the third (quarter) and got a nice drive going," Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. "In the fourth quarter, they were able to run the ball at us a bit. They did a great job defensively against us, took us out of our run game. Today, we struggled moving the ball on the ground.
"We didn't have a lot of kids in this senior class. They certainly enjoyed all the accomplishments from a year ago. We leaned on that group heavily this year, and a lot of them were two-way guys for us. We didn't have the depth as past (teams). They put together a great season for us. The senior group came together and put together another great season."