LOCKPORT - Junior defensive end Caden O’Rourke knows all about the tradition of great defenses at Lincoln-Way East, having watched his older brother Devin star on the defensive line for the Griffins before moving on to Northwestern.
O’Rourke believes this year’s squad has a defense that can stack up with some of the great ones from the past.
“This is a special defense,” O’Rourke said. “We’re so connected. I feel like I’ve been playing with these guys my entire life. I feel like it all is just lining up and we’re playing so well together.”
The Griffins were dominant Friday night, holding Lockport to 103 total yards in a 41-0 rout in a SouthWest Suburban Blue Conference game.
Offensively, Lincoln-Way East (6-0, 1-0) was led by its running back duo. Nuri Muhammad piled up 124 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries, while Zion Gist ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
The passing game was slow early, but caught fire late as Braden Tischer threw a 92-yard touchdown pass to DJ Richardson and an 80-yard scoring strike to Ryan Usher. Tischer completed 9-of-17 passes for 260 yards.
Drew Gallagher completed 7 of 16 passes for 76 yards, while Payton Roberson had two sacks to lead Lockport (3-3, 0-2), which suffered its third straight loss.
The Lincoln-Way East defense made sure the Porters never got on track. O’Rourke led the way with two sacks. Joe Fushi added a sack, while Jashawn Echols and Dylan Weathers each had an interception.
O’Rourke feels he is a smarter player than he was last season, which is allowing him to take on more of a leadership role.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better at watching a play develop and being able to read stuff,” he said. “Last year, I think I was just watching the ball all the time. This year, I’m watching the play develop and knowing where it’s going and there’s less figuring out to do.”
While Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar has been impressed by his defense overall, he is not completely satisfied.
“We’re playing pretty good defense, but we do see some deficiencies we’re working on at certain spots,” Zvonar said. “I’m jinxing myself, but we haven’t given up a touchdown (on defense) since Batavia in Week 2 and there have been some pretty special statistics going on. At the same time, we see some things that aren’t quite up to our standards and the standard is the standard regardless of the final score.”
Muhammad, meanwhile, got the Griffins off to a fast start for the second straight week. He scored on touchdown runs of 9 and 18 yards in the first half as Lincoln-Way East took a 20-0 lead to the break.
Gist added a 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
“We didn’t really know how it was all going to pan out with Nuri being a backup last year and Zion coming off the sophomore team, but we’ve come back with another tremendous two-headed monster,” Zvonar said.
Gist said he and Muhammad complement each other well.
“I would stay my strengths are powerful running,” Gist said. “When I get the open gaps, I hit them fast. Nuri’s strengths, this guy is a bully. He’s super strong and powerful through the hole.”
Muhammad threw some praise in his backfield mate’s direction, as well.
“Zion is completely well-rounded,” Muhammad said. “He can play receiver or running back. He can run through people. He’s just a great power runner. He can do it all.”
The same seemingly could be said about the Griffins’ defense.
“What we do to be dominant is just stop the run game first and then just do the best we can in the passing game, get to the ball and have our DBs lock down those receivers,” O’Rourke said.