McHenry County notes: Crystal Lake Central, Jacobs get to quarterfinals with defense

The rule for Fox Valley Conference teams, other than champion Cary-Grove, was winning by shootouts for most of the season.

Games went back and forth, points were plentiful, a big defensive stop was like gold.

Crystal Lake Central and Jacobs were right in that crowd that could almost score at will, but both survived the second round of the playoffs Friday because of strong defenses.

Central held off Deerfield, 14-7, in a Class 6A second-round game after the Warriors scored early for a 7-0 lead. Jacobs jumped out quickly on Normal and never trailed, but needed its defense to rise to the occasion to hold off the Ironmen, 17-7, in their Class 7A second-round game.

The Tigers allowed 233 total yards to Deerfield and stopped a late drive on their 25 to finish the game. The Warriors had driven from their 4 to Central territory before being stopped.

Central coach Jon McLaughlin expected two strong offensive teams to put up some points, but the game took a different turn with neither team scoring in the second half. He credited defensive coordinator Justen Lehr with making an adjustment with what the Tigers did at nose tackle to attack Deerfield’s zone blocking schemes.

“We stopped slanting our nose and that messed with their reads and gave our linebackers time to attack and run down their running backs,” McLaughlin said. “The kids just made plays and played hard. If there’s ever a time to show up, now’s the time. The kids have been playing hard and coming out and competing every week. They were due for a game like this.”

The seven points allowed was the fewest given up by both Central and Jacobs.

Jacobs coach Brian Zimmerman has seen steady improvement on the defensive side through the season. He credits defensive coordinator Tom Domenz, like Zimmerman in his first year at that position, for bringing along a new system.

“Coach Domenz has really done a great job,” Zimmerman said. “We knew we were going to have a lot of growing pains in the beginning. They’re starting to get it and understand. They’re hitting the peak at the right time.”

Defensive back Ashton Niehaus had a key interception to stop Normal in the first half and a pass break-up in the end zone late in the game. Linebackers Joey Scrivani and Paulie Rudolph led the Golden Eagles in tackles and safety Eli Vasquez came through with a key sack and forced fumble to stop a drive early in the fourth.

Jacobs put together a long drive that ended with Dominik Rocha’s 27-yard field goal that sealed the game.

“We’ve been practicing this defense so long,” Scrivani said. “We’re finally starting to get it mastered. It’s great. The defense was all in sync, I felt so comfortable out there with those guys.

ClassTime and date
4ANo. 2 Richmond-Burton (11-0) at No. 6 Chicago Phillips (9-2), 4 p.m. Saturday
6ANo. 12 Crystal Lake Central (8-3) at No. 1 Cary-Grove (11-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
No. 7 Prairie Ridge (9-2) at No. 6 Lake Forest (9-2), 1 p.m. Saturday
7ANo. 19 Jacobs (8-3) at No. 11 Prospect (9-2), 7 p.m. Saturday

History repeated: With Central, Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge still going in Class 6A, and Jacobs in 7A, it marks the second time in FVC history four teams have reached the quarterfinals.

In 2016, C-G and Prairie Ridge (6A), Jacobs (7A) and Huntley (8A) advanced to the quarters, the previous best. Also that season, Marian Central (5A) and Johnsburg (4A), from outside the FVC, made it to the quarterfinals.

The six teams was the most the area ever produced in one season. Richmond-Burton will meet Chicago Phillips in Class 4A this week, giving the area five quarterfinal teams.

In 2016, Prairie Ridge defeated Sacred Heart-Griffin for the Class 6A title and Johnsburg lost to Rochester in the Class 4A championship.

Since C-G and Central play each other, the FVC is guaranteed one semifinal team. If Prairie Ridge wins at Lake Forest, it will play the C-G vs. Central winner, thus assuring the FVC will have a Class 6A state finalist.

The last time the FVC did not have either Prairie Ridge or C-G in the Class 6A championship game was 2015, when Prairie Ridge lost to Montini in the semifinal and C-G lost in a 7A semifinal to Glenbard West.

By the numbers: Jacobs running back Ben Ludlum had two runs of 40 yards in the Eagles’ win over Normal, both from the Jacobs’ 20 to the Ironmen’s 40. … Prairie Ridge running back Zach Bentsen carried four times for 106 yards and three touchdowns in the Wolves’ 49-20 win over Wauconda. Bentsen scored three consecutive touchdowns, the equivalent of hockey’s natural hat trick. … Richmond-Burton quarterback Joe Miller was 3 for 3 for 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Rockets’ 56-6 victory over Stillman Valley. Running back Landon Jacoby touched the ball three times in the game and scored twice, a 49-yard run and a 42-yard reception.