FRANKFORT – Few teams stress all three levels of the game: offense, defense and special teams as much as the Lincoln-Way East football program does.
It showed why it does in a 26-7 victory over Homewood-Flossmoor in the quarterfinal round of the Class 8A playoffs Saturday afternoon.
The win lifts the Griffins (12-0) into the semifinal round of Class 8A for the third consecutive season. They will face Marist, a 41-27 winner over Loyola in its quarterfinal. Game time has not been set but the game will be played at Marist.
It was a rematch of these two teams from earlier in the season and a herculean defensive effort allowed the Griffins to pull away for a 10-point victory. The defense was very good again in this contest, but it was evident early on that the little things were going to make a difference.
The teams scuffled to a scoreless draw after a quarter and the Griffins got on the board early in the second quarter with a field goal from Dominic Dzioban. It was the beginning of a busy day for the Miami of Ohio bound standout kicker.
“Special teams. We try to talk about in the same space that we do offense and defense and sometimes is the forgotten and set aside,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “But we put our due diligence in with our special teams. When it comes down to a game like this, one play, regardless of the phase of it could be the difference.”
And it was the little special teams things that started to bear fruit as the game went along. Even if drives failed to produce points from the Griffins, Dzioban, who also punts, routinely made the field a long one for H-F.
More often than not, it couldn’t, and then was forced into playing the field possession trading game, and it was one they weren’t able to control.
H-F’s lone extended drive ended on another special teams play, a blocked field-goal attempt by the Griffins which sparked the only touchdown scored in the first half, a ridiculous 18-yard reception from A.J. Henning off a deflection just before the half.
A huge run from Jamal Johnson (140 yards rushing) seemed to have the Griffins on the verge of scoring another touchdown, but when that drive flamed out, Dzioban stepped in and drilled a 48-yard field goal as if it was a breeze to stretch the Griffins lead to 13-3.
H-F, which finished 10-2, finally responded with its only successful drive against the Griffins defense when quarterback Dominick Jones busted loose for a 67-yard touchdown run, but the effect was minimal as Johnson deftly countered that with a 44-yard run minutes later to rebuild the Griffin’s lead.
Any thoughts of a rally in the fourth quarter were quickly squelched, once again by Dzioban. He smashed a 50-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and than added another one from 32 yards to account for the rest of the Lincoln-Way East’s scoring. His four field goals were one short of the state record for a playoff game.
“Coach Z, one of the best coaches in the state, emphasizes special teams every week and he gets all of our guys ready every week. We do special teams as much as we do offense and defense,” Dzioban said. “That’s a big boost, and I think today it showed.”