Big games call for something special – such as a new wrinkle here or a trick play there – and games don’t get much bigger than Prairie Ridge vs. Cary-Grove.
So on Friday night, Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp had a couple of new looks to unveil against C-G. Schremp used fullback Carter Evans at linebacker for most of the game and occasionally spelled Evans by using safety Kyle Koelblinger at fullback.
Both moves worked out well in the Wolves’ 42-7 Fox Valley Conference victory. Evans (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) brought a little more wallop to the Wolves’ defense. Koelblinger, who scored four touchdowns without playing offense before Friday, carried four times for 24 yards and had a 10-yard scoring run.
“It’s something we always had in the back of our mind with those guys because they’re such good athletes,” Schremp said. “When you play a guy both ways, we try to get him established first on one side of the ball, make sure he knows what he’s doing, then after that teach him something new.”
It gives the Wolves a couple of more options to consider as they ready themselves for the Class 6A playoffs.
Gators on the run: Crystal Lake South running back Des McCarthy had his third consecutive 150-yard rushing game in Friday’s 28-21 victory over Jacobs. McCarthy piled up 183 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
The senior has climbed the area rushing ranks all year, with 492 yards in his past three games, and ranked fourth in McHenry County entering Week 8.
A freshman teammate also impressed Friday. South’s Nathan Van Witzenburg rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. This came a week after he became the first South freshman to score a touchdown.
Not bad for a running back who was called up to varsity three weeks ago.
“I’m glad he’s a freshman, or I’d be sharing a little more time,” McCarthy joked. “I’m so proud of him.”
The two running backs traded possessions in order to keep their legs fresh. On his second touch of the game, Van Witzenburg broke free for a 24-yard run.
“Our linemen really bought into wanting to move the line of scrimmage,” South coach Rob Fontana said. “That was kind of our focus all week at practice. We knew we had to eat up clock; we had to keep [Jacobs’] offense off the field.”
Just as important, the running backs took care of the ball. McCarthy fumbled once, but the Gators recovered it. South (5-3, 5-3 FVC) is playoff-eligible for the second year in a row.
Long memories: A chance to get the fifth win needed to be eligible for the playoffs wasn't all that motivated Crystal Lake Central in its 42-21 win over McHenry on Friday.
"Especially the seniors, we wanted to make sure to make up for last year," senior Drew Jenkins said of a 45-21 loss at McHenry. "That was tough. All week the coaches reminded us of the mistakes we made."
However, mistakes hurt the Tigers early Friday, as their first two possessions inside the McHenry 35 ended with an interception and turnover on downs. Their fourth possession resulted in a lost fumble.
"I thought McHenry played a really good first half and had a lot of energy," Central coach Jon McLaughlin said. "They kind of took it to us a little bit. I thought we were playing not to lose rather than to win."
That all changed with a nine-play, 79-yard drive that took only 2:24 and put the Tigers ahead to stay late in the first half. The defense also had a bigger effect, as senior Brenden Parks had two sacks and a tackle for loss, and junior Jayden Alvarez had two sacks and a fumble recovery.
"This game was huge," senior quarterback Aidan Ellinger said. "All week we remembered what happened last year. McHenry is a great team, and if you take them lightly or look past them, they'll drive it right down your throat."
Forward progress: McHenry has a chance to double its victory total of last year and finish 4-5 in its home finale against Hampshire. And late into the first half Friday, its playoff hopes were still alive and well with a 13-7 lead and the ball at the Central 12.
"We had a pretty good first half," second-year McHenry coach Jon Niemic said. "But you have to play all 48 minutes."
NIemic hopes the experience a lot of underclassmen gained in prominent roles will lead to more complete games and more success next year. Junior Adam Benton caught five passes for 82 yards with a 41-yard touchdown pass from senior Chris Zieba. Junior Brian Jordan also had an end zone interception late in the game.
Junior Mason Gureczny and sophomore Brody Hallin combined for 129 yards rushing. When Hallin had to leave after injuring his hip on the first play of the second half, junior Matteo Acosta came in and gained 35 yards on four carries and caught a 21-yard pass.
Hallin, Tyler Groves, Luke Zunkel and Kyle Kaempf are among the sophomores who have played key roles all season. Sophomore Andrew Hoffman got his first varsity start at Central before Zieba came in midway through the third quarter and completed his first seven passes for 110 yards.
"I thought Andrew came in and competed well," Niemic said. "Chris led our two-minute offense, and we felt more comfortable going with Chris and what he brought to the hurry-up."
Playoff mode: Huntley (7-1, 7-1), with a victory over winless Dundee-Crown on Friday, will earn at least a share of the FVC title with Prairie Ridge, if the Wolves can handle Crystal Lake South. Already having played the league’s upper-echelon teams (Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove), Red Raiders coach Matt Zimolzak has two major goals in his sights this week: win Friday and stay healthy for the playoffs.
“Keeping everybody healthy is always a concern,” Zimolzak said after his team’s 64-13 victory over Burlington Central. “We’ve been in half-pads for the last couple weeks. We’ve begun to ease up in practice so everybody can be ready for the playoffs.”
That “easing up in practice” might explain why the Raiders have displayed some pent-up energy and come out so aggressively – particularly on defense – in their past four games, where they’ve surrendered only 27 points (6.8 a game) in victories over Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central, Hampshire and Burlington while scoring 186 (46.5 a game.)
They’ve arrived: Burlington Central coach Brian Melvin knew his team would face challenges in its first year in the FVC. The Rockets have – by far – the league’s smallest enrollment of 1,063, according to the IHSA. The next-smallest school happens to be Prairie Ridge (1,446).
BC (3-6, 3-6) has wins over Dundee-Crown (enrollment of 2,467), Jacobs (2,145), and Hampshire (1,612), illustrating that size doesn’t matter. Add to that the fact that there are 15 sophomores – many of whom either start or play significantly – and it’s no wonder that Melvin is excited about his program.
“In so many games, we’re right there. We’re just waiting to take that next step to make the playoffs because I tell you what: These kids fight their butts off,” Melvin said after his team’s loss to Huntley (enrollment: 3,020) on Friday. “Our goal was to bring football back to Burlington Central, and those (pointing at his team) 35 kids have done that. We’ve reached our goal, and now it’s time to keep it going.”
Burlington will lose a talented group of seniors, including Western Illinois commit Matt Mutterties and the versatile Jake Lenschow, but will return quarterback Mark Ganziano and running back Gavin Sarvis and linebacker Jack Westergaard for next season, just to name a few top players.
• Sean Hammond, Marty Maciaszek and Sam Natrop contributed to this report.