Defense wins championships is a mantra that has probably been said by football coaches since the origins of the game.
And sometimes the phrase can be dismissed as little more than coachspeak.
But doing so during the conclusion of the 2019 Illinois high school football season would be foolish especially after the performances turned in during the final day of the year.
Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch used exactly that phrase very early in his comments after his Caravan put together an impressive tactical defensive performances in slowing down one of the most vaunted offenses in the state, Nazareth, to win the Class 7A title.
"Defense wins championships, that's the first thing I'll say," Lynch said minutes after the win. "You saw our defense out there. Our defense flew around and it looked like it caused a lot of confusion on the offensive side of the ball."
And Nazareth is usually the one directing the chaos in its favor when its on offense. But the Caravan defense wouldn't yield, surrendering just one offensive touchdown after Mount Carmel had clearly established that wasn't going to be repeated.
It capped a trio of games where Mount Carmel had completely extinguished anything the potent offensive attacks of Chicago Phillips, Willowbrook and Nazareth had to offer, further Lynch's point that heavy hardware is often heavily orchestrated by what gets done on the defense side of the football.
And as great as Mount Carmel's defense was, it turned out to only be a prelude to what dominant defensive effort looked like.
The Class 8A title game between Lincoln-Way East and Gurnee Warren was billed as a matchup of the state's top defensive units. Gurnee Warren, on the basis of allowing just 40 regular season points and no more than seven to any foe, seemed to enter the game as the most feared defensive unit in the state.
Lincoln-Way East seemed perturbed at that perception and put forth one of the most dominant defensive performances a state final had ever seen.
Gurnee Warren had negative yardage at half time, didn't gain a first down until the third quarter and most of its meager 36 yards gained in the game came late when the Blue Devils were trying desperately to rally.
The thought of the rally, while remote, was still possible because Warren's defense was mighty impressive as well, allowing just two long field goals from All-State kicker Dominic Dzioban in the first half and then a long touchdown run from Michigan-bound standout A.J. Henning.
The game wasn't measured in yards. It was measured in inches.
Even games that after the fact were signaled out because of their offense, ultimately had roots in their success because of their defense.
In the Class 5A title game, Rochester's ability to hinder super sophomore Kaleb Brown's ability to break out gave the Rockets extra opportunities. And giving the Rockets opportunities is simply a really bad idea. But Rochester's relatively easy victory doesn't happen without the defense setting an early tone.
But for as much as defenses ruled the final two days of play at the state finals, there were two offensive performances that simply would not be denied.
As expected, East St. Louis put forth a powerful display that typified what the Flyers had delivered all season long. And while several truly impressive athletes will graduate in the spring, eight underclassmen started for this team including incredibly talented quarterback Tyler Macon.
And I'd be remiss not to give a tip of the cap to the weekend performance and season-long effort of Lena-Winslow. The Panthers beat a very good Moweaqua Central A&M team in the final and flexed the muscle that made me wish the state had some sort of tournament of champions.
One, that would give us more football to watch and two, I'd really like to know how high on the ladder of classification this team could matchup with, because Class 1A could not hold them. After giving it more thought, I think they are the best Class 1A team I've seen in 25-plus years of witnessing state finals.
So what's next? We'll know in a few weeks whether or not the fall of 2020 will be the final season for the current playoff system or the district system will be implemented for the 2021 campaign.
That will continue to fuel conversations for most of the offseason however the vote comes out.
Hopefully it will be enough to keep me satisfied until August 28.
Anybody got a 2020 football schedule for me? Because I've got to get going on that way-too-early bracket projection...