Reminiscent of the Chicago Cubs fans who predicted their beloved team would win the World Series, a Fenwick High School football fan proudly held up a sign, “It’s gonna happen: Fenwick 2017 Class 7A State Champion.”
While it remains to be seen if Fenwick makes good on that prognostication, the Friars did take a step closer with a 20-14 win over Lake Zurich, Friday, at Triton College in River Grove.
The victory propels Fenwick to three wins away from its first state championship and a second Elite 8 appearance in the past three seasons.
The Friars and visiting Bears provided anxious fans a tale of two halves on Saturday. The teams combined for 34 points in the first half with Fenwick leading 20-14 at the break, followed by a scoreless defensive battle in the second half.
“I wish we played as well offensively in the second half as we did the first, but it was a hard-fought game,” Fenwick coach Gene Nudo said. “Our defense was great in the second half. The guys stepped up and made some huge plays for us.
“This is our second time in three seasons making the state quarterfinals. We’re excited about the opportunity to hopefully play well and go ever farther this year.”
Trailing by six with 3:03 left in the game, Lake Zurich junior quarterback Evan Lewandowski completed a pair of passes (18 yards, 5 yards) to Matthijs Enters to move the ball to the Lake Zurich 38-yard line. Two plays later, Fenwick senior linebacker Brett Moorman returned an interception for a touchdown essentially securing the Friars’ berth in the 7A quarterfinals. Fenwick committed a penalty on the play, however, taking away the touchdown.
Moorman has returned an interception for a touchdown, called back due to penalty in each of Fenwick’s first two post-season wins this year.
“It’s weird how that’s happened two weeks in row,” he said. “I’m just happy we got the win and move on to the next round. Defensively, we played well in the second half.
Despite Moorman’s tough luck with touchdowns, the Friars kept the ball after his clutch pick which enabled them to run off enough time to earn the 20-14 victory.
Defensive end Ellis Taylor (4 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles), defensive lineman Adrian Nourse (5 solo tackles), linebackers Marty Stein, Jacob Kaminski (5 solo tackles, 1 assisted tackle), and Jason Ivery and cornerbacks Lorente and Lorenzano Blakeney, Ryan Chapman and Alex Pierson also contributed to the Friars’ stellar performance in the second half.
“Ellis Taylor was all over the place,” Moorman said. “He’s such a force because he can take away half of the line of scrimmage and force teams to run the ball opposite his side. Our fans really supported us. We are 7-1 at home this season and Triton really feels like home for us.”
In the first half, Fenwick scored on three of four possessions to build a 20-7 lead with 8:05 left in the second quarter.
The Friars opened the game with an impressive 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped off by senior quarterback Jacob Keller’s 1-yard run to lead 6-0 at the 7:48 mark of the first quarter. Connor Hendzel missed the PAT.
Two plays later, Lake Zurich responded with a 70-yard touchdown run by diminutive running back Joey Stutzman (5-foot-7, 160 pounds) to give the Bears their lone lead of the game at 7-6 after Kyle Obsuszt’s PAT sailed through the uprights.
Keller connected with senior wide receiver Sherman Martin on a 36-yard touchdown pass as the Friars regained the lead at 13-7 with 4:34 in the first quarter.
On the Friars’ next offensive series, Keller completed a 42-yard pass to Martin and an 11-yard pass to senior running back Conner Lillig, which moved the ball inside the Bears’ 10. Lillig scored on a 7-yard touchdown run, extending Fenwick’s advantage to 20-7.
Midway through the second quarter, Lewandowski threw a 39-yard TD pass to Jake Stevens, who broke free from the Fenwick secondary in the middle of the field to make the score 20-14.
Keller finished 13 of 21 on passing attempts for 224 yards and a touchdown. Lillig rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Martin had three catches for 119 yards and O’Laughlin caught five passes for 78 yards.
The Friars’ offensive line of Marco Torres, Austin Glazier, Daniel Kannin, Joe Calcagno and Sean Heslin turned in a terrific performance Saturday.
“Our offensive line deserves a ton of credit for our success,” Lillig said. “Those guys are phenomenal. They give Jake (Keller) all kinds of time in the pocket and are great run blockers.”
Fenwick (10-1) travels to Algonquin to take on Jacobs (7-4) on Saturday, Nov. 12. Kickoff is 3 p.m.
While the Friars are seeded fourth and projected as a top contender to win state, the Golden Eagles are the No. 28 seed with upset wins over Lincoln Park and Batavia, the past two weeks.