CARY – After the offense averaged almost 40 points a game, Cary-Grove’s defense was waiting for a chance to prove itself.
The Trojans’ defense came up with two stops in their own territory in their closest game of the season, defeating Crystal Lake Central 7-0 in the Class 6A quarterfinal.
“That was one of the most physical game I’ve ever been a part of,” C-G quarterback Quinn Baker said. “That was a fight the whole game.”
Three consecutive fumbles by the Trojans (12-0) on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter gave the Tigers (9-3) chances to tie the game, but C-G’s secondary held strong.
Facing fourth and one on Cary’s 20-yard line, the Tigers brought in their power running formation called “Godzilla”, but Trojans defensive back Matt Sutherland noticed different personnel from previous formations.
Sutherland’s assignment in the defense against the Godzilla is to play the pass in case of play-action, and was in perfect position to bat the ball down when Tigers quarterback Kyle Lavand looked for Jack Massett in the end zone.
“I saw the quarterback scrambling and look my way,” Sutherland said. “I saw the ball in the air, and I just tried to bat it down. Thankfully, I did.”
The Tigers’ previous possession receached the Trojans’ 32-yard line, but defensive back Marcus Thimios jumped the receiver on the sideline, and got his feet in for the interception.
“It’s definitely a statement and a confidence builder that [the defense] can get it done, too,” Thimios said. “The offense sometimes has to pick up our slack. Today, we helped the offense out a little bit.”
C-G’s defense also added two goal-line stops, holding the Tigers scoreless on two first-and-goals. On Central’s first possession of the game, the Tigers took a 12 play drive down to first and goal from the seven but missed a field goal wide right. On their first possession of the second half, the Tigers took 10 plays to get to the five-yard line but a fake field goal pass fell incomplete.
“When you get to the quarterfinals, it just comes down to a few plays and finishing drives, and we didn’t do that today,” Central coach Matt Fralick said.
As has been the case all season, Central relied heavily on its defense, and held Cary to 272 total yards. Defensive tackles Kyle Logan and Alex Ibarra helped clog the middle, with safety Darwin Stone and linebackers Connor Hines and Josh Muglar cleaning up. Hines, Stone and Nathan Talbott had fumble recoveries and cornerback Jordan Wallace broke up two possible touchdown passes.
Trojans fullback Kyle Norberg ran for a game-high 136 yards, but needed 32 carries to get there. Baker had 47 yards on 17 carries and Ryan Mahoney added 81 yards on 10 carries.
Central came up with a goal-line stand of its own, stopping Baker for a loss on fourth and goal from the one. But the Tigers gave C-G the ball back with good field position, and with 2:36 left in the first half, the Trojans went six plays and 36 yards for the game’s only score with Mahoney finding the end zone on a eight-yard toss with 21 seconds left.
“That was really disappointing when we didn’t get that one in,” Baker said. “But I knew our defense was going to get us the ball back, and I knew we were going to get another chance.”
The Trojans stopped Central’s power rushing attack, holding the Tigers to 46 yards on the ground, but Central did find success in the spread. Quarterback Kyle Levland went 15 for 26 for 134 yards. Jack Ortner led all receivers with 6 receptions and 63 yards, Isaiah Mosher had 42 yards on four receptions and Andrew Alexander added three receptions for 24 yards.