CHAMPAIGN – Lake Zurich's defense was the talk of Saturday's Class 7A state championship football game.
"Their defense is very quick and very aggressive," Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said after a 7-3 loss that snapped his 2006 Class 8A state title team's 27-game winning streak. "They took away our running game. We were forced to pass a lot more than we wanted. It was about the only thing we could do."
Defensive back Kevin Johnson's second-quarter interception of a Michael Piatkowski pass set up a 5-yard Jon Janus run for the game's only touchdown. Lake Zurich's defense spent the rest of the evening protecting the lead by holding the high-scoring Tigers to a field goal despite losing two fumbles deep in their own territory.
Lake Zurich's first stand came after a Wheaton Warrenville South punt hit a Bear and Patrick Kelly recovered for the Tigers on the Bear 6. Three runs by tailback Peter Jarrett netted 5 yards. Wheaton Warrenville South settled for a 19-yard Dan Conway field goal as time ran out in the first half.
"We didn't get down on each other after the fumble," linebacker/running back Adam Simpson said. "(Linebacker) Wade (Self) came in and stood (Jarrett) up one play, and (linebacker) Tyler (Lafontaine) nailed him on the next. We've been tough against the run all season. There are no real standouts. We fly around and play together. This is a great feeling. We knew we didn't want to come down here and lose two in a row," he said in reference to last year's 35-21 Class 7A title loss to Chicago St. Rita.
The Bear defense was put to the test again when running back Dan Kalcsics fumbled on the second play from scrimmage in the second half and Kelly recovered on the Lake Zurich 36. This time a holding penalty helped force a punt from the 40.
"Those two stands show how we pick each other up despite mistakes," Lafontaine said. "I thought 'here we go' after the fumbled punt. We didn't get down on each other, though. We just hung in there and did the job. It really pumped us up to stop a high-scoring team like that. We had watched a lot of film and looked for our keys to stop the run. We played off each other's energy."
The final touch in the defensive gem came after Piatkowski completed four straight passes on a last-ditch drive to move the Tigers from their 10 to the Lake Zurich 42. That's when the Lake Zurich rush forced two hurried throws before Michael Dietrich intercepted Piatkowski on the Bear 15 with 18 seconds left.