Lockport’s wrecking crew does work again on way to Class 8A state title

Lockport's Cody Silzer puts pressure on Maine Souths Rowan Keefe in the Class 8A state championship at NIU Huskie Stadium. Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 in DeKalb

DEKALB – It felt like everything came full circle for the Lockport defense Saturday.

After starting the season looking like no one would do much against them, the Porters took their dominance to the next level at exactly the perfect time in the Class 8A State Championship.

Lockport (13-1) forced five turnovers and rolled to a 24-6 win over Maine South at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium.

“We had to have another level tonight, or we would have gotten spanked,” Lockport coach George Czart said. “They (Maine South) came out guns-a-blazing, and we talk about if you can weather the storm early because we can’t duplicate their speed with our scout team. We know we have to adjust, and once we see them a few series we catch on. I thought weathering the storm early was a good sign for us.”

Maine South had two productive drives in the first quarter that didn’t net any points, but the success the Hawks had gave the Porters the road map to how they could give them trouble.

Defensive back Danny Martisek, who finished with two interceptions, a forced fumble and seven tackles, wasn’t surprised that the Lockport defense eventually found a way to stymie Maine South like they had with so many other opponents this season.

“The defensive line was getting pressure and making him chuck it up, and I was able to just make a play,” Martisek said. “When they were running the ball, he was carrying it kind of loose, every time I got a tackle I would try to rip it out, and I got one.”

Lockport got five turnovers against Maine South and appeared to force a sixth, which actually turned into the lone scoring drive for the Hawks when running back Mike Sajenko scooped up a fumble by quarterback Rowan Keefe and ran it 36 yards down to the Lockport 14. Keefe would score four plays later to break up the shutout bid, but it took a break like that to break through the brick wall that was Lockport.

“Together we succeed,” defensive end Andrew Blackburn-Forst said. “That first drive, they had some pretty good plays, but if we stay together as a unit we will prevail eventually.”

And that unit prevails because they get productivity from all 11 players on the field. Defensive back Nick Franciskovich led the team with 12 total tackles, three for loss, and chipped in two pass breakups. He also almost singlehandedly took away Maine South’s bubble screen game and forced the Hawks to try other options after spending much of the first half in the opposition’s backfield.

“We all play together,” Franciskovich said. “A guy makes a play and another guy wants to make a better play. We’re all just trying to do our job.”

“This is a brotherhood,” defensive lineman Cody Silzer said. “We play for the guy next to us. Our team saying this year was, ‘,We over me. We is greater than me.’ That’s what we did tonight, and we got the job done.”

Czart didn’t know that this defense was going to do what it did in leading the Porters to a Class 8A title, but he did know the group had something special, traits which they displayed frequently Saturday.

“I felt good early on that we were going to be pretty dang good this year because I couldn’t find a real weakness in our defense,” Czart said. “I couldn’t find one. We were exceptional in some places, and pretty dang good in other places. We were not weak anywhere.”

And with that personnel in place, Czart had the system that he knew his Porters would flourish in.

“Our mentality has to be keep everything in front, we’re not going to do anything fancy like these blitzes and stuff,” Czart said. “We’re going to line up, keep the ball in front and tackle viciously. We need to know what the offense is going to do and make them earn it.”

And nobody could.