Crystal Lake South tops Huntley for crucial 5th win

CRYSTAL LAKE — The message was very simple at practice this week for Crystal Lake South: win or go home.

Entering Friday night’s game with a 4-4 record, the Gators needed a win over Huntley to advance to the postseason and the mission was accomplished in a 28-14 win over the Red Raiders.

In earning the vital fifth win of the season, the Gators used a balanced offense and stingy defense to secure their spot in the playoffs.

The Gators took the opening drive of the game and used an effective mix of running and passing to take a 7-0 lead when quarterback Justin Kowalak connected with Brady Schroeder for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

Two possessions later, running back Nate Van Witzenburg went to work. Carrying the ball on seven of the nine plays in an 85-yard drive, Van Witzenburg scored from a yard out to extend the lead to 14-0. On their next drive, Kowalak ended a six-play, 55-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

“When we have Nate fighting for every single yard, it opens up the passing game and makes us a very versatile team,” Kowalak said. The senior quarterback went 16-of-28 passing for 268 yards and a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown.

The South defense bottled up Huntley’s offense, particularly in the first half. The Red Raiders punted on their first four possessions and had three first downs in the first half.

“We played really well as a defense, we are well-coached and stuck to our plan and played really well, especially to start the game,” senior defensive back Brandon Haning said. Haning finished the game with an interception and tackle for loss.

In the second half, South kept calling Van Witzenburg’s number and he kept answering. The junior added a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for South’s final score. Van Witzenburg ran for 110 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns.

Huntley’s offense moved the ball better in second half. Running back Ryder Hunkins had 112 of his 116 yards rushing in the second half and the passing game picked up as well. Huntley quarterback William Kenner went 7-of-15 passing for 96 yards and he scored both touchdowns for the Red Raiders on runs of 1 and 2 yards. Huntley ends the season with a record of 3-6.

“Our players worked really hard, we had a great group of guys and I’m really thankful for our senior group, I really appreciate all they’ve done for our team and we’ll be stronger for what they have done for us,” Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak said.

For South, Friday’s game was validation for all of the work leading to their fifth win.

“It feels awesome, like a weight lifted off of our shoulders, we needed to win keep playing and we left it all on the field tonight,” Van Witzenburg said.

South coach Rob Fontana knows their success has come from all angles of the program.

“Our 10 seniors wanted to put their stamp on the program and they did,” Fontana said. “And our coaches put in so much time to prepare our guys and the scout team gets us ready every week, it’s been a true team effort.”