CRYSTAL LAKE – There are plenty of quantifiable reasons Crystal Lake Central, led by a stout defense, is where it’s at heading into Saturday’s IHSA Class 5A quarterfinal football game at Cary-Grove.
Numbers are a good measure. Like the fact the Tigers have allowed 200 yards of offense and 13.3 points a game. Those can say a lot.
But to senior cornerback Jordan Wallace, the collective connection of the defensive group says a lot more.
“We all have the heart,” Wallace said. “We all work together great. It’s just that everyone flies around and does their job, and it always works.”
And it has been working at peak efficiency since the playoffs have rolled around.
Central (9-2) has allowed just 312 yards and 20 points in two playoff games. In Friday’s 30-13 victory over Grant, neither of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns came against the first-team defense. Grant scored a defensive touchdown and again late in the game against the Tigers’ second-team defense.
The Tigers’ defensive philosophy is not about to change, but they know their biggest test comes Saturday.
“This is the best offense we’ve seen all year long,” coach Matt Fralick said. “They can hurt you a lot of different ways.”
The biggest way, and the Tigers’ No. 1 defensive assignment, will be C-G fullback Kyle Norberg. Norberg leads the area with 1,797 rushing yards and an average of 11.6 yards a carry. Stopping Norberg will go a long way in stopping the potent C-G attack.
“As far as slowing them down, we have to do what we’ve done to every offense so far,” safety Darwin Stone said. “We will try to take away their best player and go from there. That’s what their offense is built around, and we have to stop that.”
The Tigers saw similar option offenses to what C-G (11-0) runs in Woodstock North and Prairie Ridge during the regular season and defeated both those teams. But C-G has done it the longest and the best.
Locking down that offense will fall to the battle in the trenches between the Tigers’ defensive line and the Trojans’ offensive line.
“We have to match how physical their offensive line is,” Fralick said. “It’s going to start up front. Their offensive line is the best offensive line we’ve seen all year.”
“If we can’t hold our own up front, it doesn’t matter what defense we’re running.”
Wallace said turnovers are going to play a huge role in deciding the outcome Saturday. However, Fralick cautioned that that task may be difficult because C-G controls the ball so well.
“We’re so excited,” Wallace said. “There’s not going to be anything like this. If we win this, it shows who we are. We want to turn some heads on this one.”