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10/12/12 Northlake-Leydens Michael Smith looks for an open receiver against Proviso East. Stacia Timonere/for Sun Times Media
Leyden stormed back after a lackluster first half to easily dispatch Proviso East 18-7 to earn undisputed control of a conference title for the first time since 1979.
Defense and special teams play turned the tide as the Eagles (7-1, 6-0 West Suburban Gold) set up a touchdown with an interception and recorded two safeties to put the game out of reach.
The celebration may have started as soon as the clock hit zero, but it wasn't all fun and games as Proviso East (0-8, 0-5) forced a 7-7 tie just before halftime on junior quarterback Lawrence Griffin’s one-yard run. The touchdown was created by a Pirates’ interception.
Tough running from senior Mickey Gulo (14 carries, 57 yards) paced the Leyden attack while senior wide receiver Andrew Garcia (8 catches 107 yards, TD) helped stretch the field throughout.
"[Garcia] has been my receiver since freshman year, I love throwing the ball to him," senior quarterback Mike Smith said.
Smith completed 13 of 18 passes for 209 yards, a touchdown and interception.
Garcia, who puts in time on defense as well, acted as Smith's personal safety valve, bailing the Eagles out of several third and long situations.
"He's always looking out for me and I'm always looking out for him," Garcia said. "I understand how it feels to be a defensive back so I try to mix it up a lot on my routes."
The game swung permanently in Leyden's favor in the third quarter.
The defense stepped up after halftime with an interception on the first possession. "We knew we were going to come out stronger in the second half," Gulo said. "I told the guys 'we want it,' we expected to win and we did."
In a span of three minutes Gulo scored on a five yard run and Proviso East snapped the ball over the punter's head and into the endzone for a safety to give the Eagles nine unanswered points.
On the next Proviso East possession, junior defensive lineman Cristian Murillo caught the Pirates' Griffin and tackled him in the end zone for a second consecutive safety.
"It was a lot closer than we would have liked but we got it done," Leyden coach Tom Cerasani said. "Early we just couldn't stick it into the end zone but in the end a wins a win."
With the conference championship secured, Leyden turns its sights on Lyons as they march into LaGrange for a contest to determine whether or not they have a first round playoff game at home.
"Winning conference for the first time since 1979 feels great," Cerasini said. "I'm proud of these guys, they deserve this."