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Lake Zurich quarterback Jake Stauner (10) looks for running room around the right side during the Bear's 17-6 win over Hononegah to advance to the third round of the Class 7A playoffs. Chris Anderson~For Sun-Times Media
Lake Zurich has won eight of its past nine games and is peaking at just the right time.
Still, the Bears will face their biggest test of the season — by far — when they host two-time defending state champion Rockford-Boylan in the Class 7A quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Boylan (11-0) is undefeated. The Titans won the Class 6A crown in 2010 and the 7A title last November. They’re also riding a colossal 39-game winning streak.
The two teams have a recent history, too. Lake Zurich lost to Boylan, 16-10, in the semifinals a year ago. However, the Bears (9-2) knocked Boylan out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals in both 2006 and 2007.
Although Bears coach David Proffitt said he won’t use revenge as a motivational tool, at least one player — senior running back Connor Schrader — hasn’t forgotten what it felt like to watch many of his teammates’ high school football careers end at the hands of Boylan.
“Of course revenge is something that has entered our minds,” Schrader said. “But the thing that’s really in the back of my mind is ... we preach family at Lake Zurich. Our team this year isn’t just about this year, it’s also about the players who came before us. Once you’re a Lake Zurich Bear, you’re always a Lake Zurich Bear.
“I remember last year, as a junior, after that loss to Boylan, seeing a lot of my close teammates who were seniors, crying. Their seasons and some of their football careers, over with, just like that. I remember the anger I felt. So winning wouldn’t be as much about revenge as it would be a redemption for them in a sort of way.”
While Schrader has put together impressive back-to-back weeks running the ball after recovering fully from a hip injury, Lake Zurich’s defense has continued to take center stage during the first two rounds of the postseason.
After giving up an average of just 5.6 points per game during the first nine weeks — including five shutouts — the Bears have picked up right where they left off in the regular season, allowing just six combined points in their first two playoff games.
Boylan averages 41.6 points per game on offense, and has scored 51 or more points three times. But there are plenty of reasons to believe the Bears may be able to slow the Titans down.
During Lake Zurich’s 17-6 win over Hononegah (which also averaged more than 40 ppg) last Saturday, the Bears forced four turnovers (two fumble recoveries, two interceptions). Equally impressive was the fact that they held an Indians squad that featured three running backs who averaged more than eight yards per carry to just two runs of nine yards or more on 46 total carries.
“We just capitalized on their mistakes and overcame ours,” said Bears senior linebacker Robert Rossdeutcher, who had a fumble recovery and interception against the Indians. “It’s playoff football. You’ve gotta just keep fighting. There were some big momentum switches by both sides, and we just kept coming out with the mentality that we had to attack no matter what happened.”
Lake Zurich also stopped Hononegah on two huge fourth down plays in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter, when the outcome was very much in question. Both times, the Indians were deep in Bears territory.
It has given Lake Zurich tremendous confidence.
“I’ll tell you something,” Proffitt said. “I expected us to stop them on those fourth downs. Both times. I knew our guys were gonna stop them.”