Lincoln-Way East gets message, stymies Warren
Early in the first quarter of Saturday afternoon's quarterfinal matchup between Lincoln-Way East and Warren, the Warren quarterback, Adam Behrens broke free for a 17-yard gain.
The play evoked a wide range of raucous criticism from the Lincoln-Way East coaching staff who didn't feel as if its defensive unit was fulfilling its expected obligations.
But the exuberant messaging hit its mark as the Griffins allowed that one offensive outburst and pretty much nothing else the rest of the way in securing its place in the Class 8A semifinals with a 35-12 win that wasn't as close as that score might indicate.
The win pushes Lincoln-Way East (12-0) into next weekend's semifinal round. It is the fourth time in the last five full seasons that the Griffins have advanced to the semifinal round and will host Glenbard West, a 37-35 winner over Maine South. Warren ends its season at 10-2.
"We knew coming in that any play could end our season," Lincoln-Way East defensive end Caden O'Rourke said. "So we had to get every little thing down perfect. It was really about working harder and wanting it more than them, that's what we were going for."
Down 35-0, Warren broke up Lincoln-Way East's shutout bid by blocking a Griffin punt which was promptly picked up by Jaden Turner and ran it back 35 yards for a score with 5:14 to play. The Blue Devils blocked another punt minutes later which would lead to a 7-yard touchdown reception for Niko Mantzoros off a pass from Behrens that would close out the game's scoring.
"You don't expect 35-0 against these guys like it was at one time," Zvonar said. "It was just a great all-around effort on offense, defense and specials to be able to control the game against the Warren Blue Devils that's unbelievable. I'm proud of our group, they set some goals for themselves after we lost to Loyola in the quarterfinals, and one goal was to play longer than we did last year, so we got that. And it is onto the Final Four for us."
After that early incident, Lincoln-Way East's defense was near flawless, keeping the Blue Devils under 100 yards of total offense for almost the entire contest with only some tack-on yardage late in the game allowing Warren to eventually crack the century mark.
"We are going to stay detailed oriented from day one," Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. "We are going to hold those kids to a high standard. We weren't upset or all over them in a negative way, we were just making sure they were following through with the game plan. They are very coachable kids."
Lincoln-Way East made it its mission to put the Warren running game in check, particularly Charley Thompson. Thompson ran for 215 yards in Warren's second-round win over Andrew, but the Griffins stuffed him at every turn as he finished with just 13 yards on nine carries.
"We knew they were a good team, but we just had to out tough them and beat them," O'Rourke said. "We had to stop the run, we knew if we could stop the run game, we'd force them to pass and we'd be all over that. We play eleven men as one. We're all one unit. We work hard, all together, like a family."
After that small hiccup early on, Lincoln-Way East put the clamps down, eventually forcing a punt which Lincoln-Way East turned into one of its meticulous long drives that eventually ended on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Braden Tischer to Jimmy Curtin that capped a 14-play drive that practically closed out the fourth quarter.
It wasn't an easy drive for the Griffins as Warren made them work for the points. Leading rusher James Kwiecinski didn't have the clearest of rushing lanes for much of the day and came up short of the 100-yard barrier for one of the few times this season.
That was OK though because the Griffins did a little bit more damage through the air than they typically do. Midway through the second quarter the Griffins broke a big play when Tischer and Curtin again hooked up and after Curtin got a block to free him, turned on the jets and went for an 80-yard score. It allowed the Griffins to carry a 14-0 lead into the break.
After the break, the defense continued to turn away Warren and refused to allow it any momentum. A three-and-out started the second half and a short punt left the Griffins with just 41 yards to cover.
Tischer, who finished 11-of-15 passing for 149 yards, engineered a drive that finished with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Petey Olaleye that seemed to pretty much cement the outcome.
But the Griffins weren't done. Kwiecinski ripped off a 24-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and on the ensuing kickoff, Warren coughed up the ball and Dylan Weathers scooped up the ball and pushed Lincoln-Way East's lead to 35-0.