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The high school football season is in the books, and it was quite a season.
The finish, except for the final score, was a keeper. Lincoln-Way East’s 10-8 loss to Glenbard West in the Class 7A final between unbeatens at the University of Illinois in Champaign was a draining event.
“It was as fast and physical a game as you are going to see,” Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said. “It was great to play against them. We really appreciate the Lord giving us this experience.”
Zvonar noted “the heartache on the part of our athletes” because of missing a state championship by that much. But if you watched Glenbard West’s defense during the previous 13 games, you feared it could become that sort of day.
“The best comparison we got along the way was when someone said our defense was a little like Glenbard West’s,” Zvonar said.
Indeed, you had to come away admiring Lincoln-Way East’s defense as well. If you didn’t already hold 150-pound senior linebacker Kyle Langenderfer in high esteem, you should now. All the lightning-quick reigning state wrestling champion did was make a team-high 11 tackles, including nine solo and two for loss. He also forced two Glenbard West fumbles in the second half, recovering one.
Size prohibits Langenderfer and fellow linebackers Adam O’Grady and Mitch Murphy from being considered for Division I college football. But good luck trying to name a tougher, more effective trio of high school backers.
On the other side of the ball, there was Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel, who will play at Northern Illinois. He has been described as a gazelle, as the ultimate dual threat with his legs and arm.
Relatively slender at 6-3, 180 pounds, Fuessel is strong and more than willing to take a hit, or to deliver the blow himself. Viewers around the state learned just how tough he is after he spent the night on the big stage as the No. 1 target for what was arguably the state’s fastest, hardest-hitting defense.
There were multiple occasions where Fuessel either was stunned, had difficulty getting back up or both. Yet he gutted it out, staying in the game until the very last play.
I admire Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti and his illustrious career. I was glad to see him get the school’s 11th state title with the 28-14 victory over Glenbard North in the 8A final.
That said, the two best teams in the state met for the 7A championship. That was my feeling before Saturday, and nothing that happened on the Memorial Stadium turf changed my mind.
“I can’t say enough about the young men we have,” said Zvonar, who coached East to the 8A title in 2005. “They are the most extraordinary group in terms of selflessness that I have coached.”
It showed, all season long.
Around the gridiron
In a rush: Fuessel finished with 1,519 rushing yards and East senior back Nick Colangelo closed with 1,103 yards. The Griffins, who in their 12 seasons have boasted several outstanding passing quarterbacks, including All-Staters, never before had a 1,000-yard rusher.
Real deal: A thought on the Class 6A championship game, where Crete-Monee beat Cary-Grove 33-26: Crete wide-receiver/safety Laquon Treadwell is every bit the talent he has been made out to be. Some major program — be it Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Michigan State or Mississippi — will get quite a catch.
Season to remember: Morris fell to Montini 19-6 in the 5A title game. That means the Joliet area had two finalists, four semifinalists (including Joliet Catholic and Lemont) and seven quarterfinalists (including Lincoln-Way West, Wilmington and Coal City). In addition, the first two teams Lincoln-Way East eliminated were Plainfield Central and then, of course, Providence.
Everyone has injuries, of course, and the intention is not to use them as an excuse. I can’t help but wonder, however, how the post-mortem on this season would have read had Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac and Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey not gotten hurt.
Recruiting chat: Respected college recruiting guru Tom Lemming is a correspondent for the South Bend Tribune. He suggested in a recent article that Notre Dame should return to Joliet to take another shot at Isaac, who is committed to USC. He cites the example of Irish quarterback Everett Golson, who had committed to North Carolina, and says Notre Dame has gotten many players after they committed elsewhere.
Signing day is not until early February.
Grand slam: Morris All-Stater Danny Friend on Montini winning four straight state championships: “I know how long this season was, how much work it was to get here once. Winning it four years in a row, I can just imagine how difficult that was.”