Cary-Grove's Blake Skol celebrates after beating Crete-Monee, 35-13, for the Class 6A state championship Nov. 24, 2018 in Champaign.
Cary-Grove's Blake Skol celebrates after beating Crete-Monee, 35-13, for the Class 6A state championship Nov. 24, 2018 in Champaign. — Matthew Apgar -

Cary-Grove was playing what basically amounted to a game of keep-away against Crete-Monee for the Class 6A state championship last season.

The Trojans held onto the ball for 35:21 of the game’s 48 minutes, highlighted by a 20-play, 90-yard drive that gobbled up 11:19 of the second half on their way to a 35-13 victory and their second perfect season in school history.

It will be a tough act to follow, especially with dynamic quarterback Ben McDonald and NCAA Division I lineman Addison West among the key players who graduated. But C-G has maintained a remarkable level of consistency over the past 15 years, making the playoffs every time and losing three regular-season games only three times in that stretch.

“It was a culmination of a lot of things within our program, within our staff, within our kids, so to win it was gratifying,” Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said. “We’ve been in a similar position before, and we just want to keep going. Our seniors and juniors are not satisfied with last year, they want to win it this year. They’re as hungry as ever. Having a taste of it last year has made our kids all that much more hungry.”

The Fox Valley Conference has produced the past three Class 6A state champs – Prairie Ridge in 2016 and 2017; C-G last year. The Trojans are 83-17 in Seaburg’s eight seasons.

Head coach: Brad Seaburg (ninth season)

Last year’s record: 14-0 (6A state champion)

Biggest question

Who will step in to the four vacated starting spots on the offensive line?

Guard Evan Hissong and tight end Nathan Desmet are the only returning starters for a strong line that led the way for the Trojans’ high-powered option attack.

West is at Western Michigan, while Harry Heinisch, Jason Petko and Jack Riley also graduated.

There also are questions in the offensive backfield, where fullback Blake Skol is the only returning starter. C-G will miss the playmaking of McDonald, who both threw and rushed for more than 1,300 yards, as well as running back Danny Daigle and wide receiver Quinn Priester. But finding fast backs never seems to be a problem for the Trojans.

Senior Luke Eleftheriou, a starter at defensive back, and sophomore Jameson Sheehan were working at quarterback over the summer. Seaburg figured the decision on a starter will be made the week of the opener.

C-G is glad to have Skol, who rushed for 1,498 yards and 19 touchdowns, back to lead the backfield. Skol (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) is tough and fast, and Seaburg likely will use him on defense as the season progresses. He started on defense as a sophomore.

Junior Arik Mistak, who started at defensive back, has been switched to offense to play one of the running back positions.

Players to watch

If Eleftheriou starts at quarterback, with Mistak at running back, there still will be four other returning starters on defense: Linebackers Jake Johnson and Johnny Gagliano, defensive back Dymitri Kanellakis and defensive lineman Mitchell Dec.

Dec (6-1, 195) was working on both lines in summer practices but will stay on defense.

Johnson (5-7, 185) had six tackles in the state championship game and was constantly disruptive to opposing offenses. Gagliano (6-0, 220) has added about 20 pounds from last season and joins Johnson in the middle of the defense.

“We have a lot of guys I’ve been working with since our freshman year,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of new guys coming up who are going to impress a lot of people. I’m really excited.”

Seaburg likes what he sees on defense.

“Our kids play with hunger – they play with urgency – and we also have guys who can change direction real well,” Seaburg said. “We don’t typically have the biggest defenders out there, but we have fast ones who can really change direction real fast.”

Newcomers you need to know

Seniors Gio Lanera (WR) and Michael Sullivan (DL) and juniors Nathan Gamez (DL), Zach Stolz (OL) and Anthony LaMantia (DB) are some of the key players who are moving into starting roles this season.

Schedule analysis

The Trojans’ opener against Crystal Lake South last season was one of their toughest regular-season games, a 29-22 comeback victory. They meet again in Week 1 this year.

C-G will see one of the Fox Valley Conference's best players, Crystal Lake Central quarterback Aidan Ellinger, in Week 2.

The Week 4 game against Huntley should be a good measuring stick, as both are considered FVC contenders. It was an impressive 35-20 win for C-G last year.

Weeks 7 and 8 will see the Trojans facing Jacobs and Prairie Ridge, both of which are usually playoff teams. Jacobs missed last season but desperately wants back into the FVC picture this season. Prairie Ridge is an FVC favorite with 16 starters returning from a conference runner-up team.

C-G and Prairie Ridge have provided some great games in recent years because both teams run triple-option offenses and know one another well.

Early take

The Trojans graduated a lot of key players from last season, but this is a program with sustainability, proven by 15 consecutive playoff appearances and usually at least reaching the quarterfinals. C-G again should be regarded as a top FVC contender and a team that can make another strong playoff run.