It wasn’t long after kickoff that the Bears decided to stay in their lane to compile 405 yards of offense. The last of their four attempted passes came early in the second quarter, as they powered their way into the quarterfinals with a 35-14 victory.
“It’s fun,” two-way senior lineman Logan Cunningham said with a smile of the Bears’ pounding the ball 52 times for 381 yards on the ground.
It certainly was for quarterback Lucas Lappin and running back Chris Pirrone. Lappin had 11 carries for 152 yards and three touchdowns, and Pirrone ran 28 times for 194 yards and two scores as the Bears (10-1), the top seed in the north bracket, won their sixth consecutive game and will be at home next weekend to face No. 4 Belvidere North (9-2), a 28-21 winner over Wauconda.
“There was a hole on at least every play,” Pirrone said after he surpassed 1,000 yards for the season. “I’m proud of the boys up front. They showed up today. I give everything up to the O-line.”
Pirrone scored on runs of 13 yards for a 21-7 lead 3:42 before halftime and 27 yards to make it 35-7 with 43 seconds left in the third.
The line of Cunningham, Trevor Schuetz, Max Maj, Jacob Clarin and Jacob Zdanowicz (starting for the injured Bryce Sanders) and tight ends Cason Gwizdala and George DiCanio allowed only one negative play. Lappin’s touchdown runs of 80 and 27 yards quickly erased the only lead for No. 9 Kaneland (7-4), and his 2-yard score capped a 74-yard drive to make it 28-7.
“If we’re moving the ball, I’m fine with that,” Lappin said of going 2-for-4 passing for 24 yards. “Our run game has been strong all year. If we don’t need to pass the ball with our dominant run game, I think we should be able to run over teams.”
Kaneland was hampered by standout running back/defensive end Josh Mauthe’s bad ankle, as he tried to go in the second quarter but came out after one play. But the Knights scored on their first possession when four-year starting quarterback Troyer Carlson (14-for-23, 169 yards) hit Anthony DeBlasio for a 10-yard touchdown.
“I thought we came out ready to play,” said first-year Kaneland coach MIke Thorgesen. “Our kids wanted this one, and in the first quarter it showed.
“There are no excuses. That’s a heck of a ball team over there.”
On the next play from scrimmage at the LZ 20, Lappin executed a perfect fake, raced down the left sideline and dodged a couple of defenders near the end of his tying score.
“I was a little disappointed on our first drive that we went three-and-out, because I felt we had the ability to get the first down there,” said LZ coach Ron Planz. “Lucas’ first play on the second drive to tie it up reinvigorated our guys a little bit. It let them know LZ was here and going to play.”
The hard-hitting Bears made that clear on the other side of the ball, too. Copelan Oettinger had an interception two plays after Lappin’s tiebreaking score.
Lincoln Adams also had an interception, pass breakup and a tackle for loss, and DiCanio (two tackles for loss, pass breakup), Conner Sole, George Fotos, Nate Snep, Nolan Siko, Bryce Erkman and Leo Penaherrera were instrumental in allowing only 176 yards through 3½ quarters.
“The biggest thing we talk about is ‘Be LZ,’ and LZ is a tough, physical program,” Planz said.
“We just locked things in a lot more,” Cunningham said of the response to Kaneland’s opening 70-yard drive, “and we came out and played physical.”
Kaneland drove 85 yards to set the final score with 2:27 left on Carlson’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Dominick DeBlasio (six catches, 108 yards).
The Knights’ losses were to teams that now have a combined record of 40-4. Three are still alive in the postseason.
“As far as 6-3 (regular-season record) goes, this might be the best 6-3 team I’ve been around,” Thorgesen said. “Hats off to our kids. They played their hearts out all season.”