On a cloudy Saturday afternoon on a wind-swept field, the Lake Zurich Bears came up short, losing to the Boylan-Rockford Titans 16-10 and concluding their season in a close contest.
“A few big plays were the difference,” said Lake Zurich senior linebacker Jack Lynn, playing in his final game for the Bears. Lynn acknowledged that a loss in the playoffs is that much more painful because it brings to a close the playing careers for all of the seniors on the team.
“They’ll (Lake Zurich) be back. They’re good and they’ll be getting some good new players next year," said Lynn.
Both teams displayed excellent defense throughout the game. Boylan (13-0), who averaged over 40 points per game this season, was held to just 16. But their defense matched the Bears, and in the end, an interception by Adonis Brown late in the first quarter led to a Titans touchdown, giving them a 7-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Lake Zurich managed to get a first down opening the game, when quarterback Steven Kuhn completed a short pass to Mike Shield to the Bears 45-yard line. But the Titans held them after that, forcing Mark Weber to punt.
Lake Zurich was pinned back at their own 7-yard line on their next possession, but Shield broke through for a 19-yard gain. But the drive fizzled when John Orlando was tackled for a loss on a third-and-three situation.
The Bears started with excellent field position on their next series when Orlando ran the ball back to Lake Zurich’s 49-yard line with a 17-yard return. Shield ran for a gain of 11 yards, followed by a 2-yard pick-up. But after two more runs by Shield that netted just two yards, Kuhn went to the air on third-and-seven. The pass was intended for Orlando, who got his hands on it while moving along the left sideline. But Adonis Brown was able to pick it off, and he returned it to the Bears’ 32-yard line.
After Titans quarterback Lamont Toney connected with Peter Cimino for a 5-yard completion, running back Tyreis Thomas picked up 5 yards to advance to the 20-yard line for a first down. Following a penalty on Lake Zurich that moved the ball to the 11-yard line, Toney ran for a 3-yard gain and then connected with Cimino for a 2-yard pass. After being tackled for no gain on a keeper, Toney handed the ball off to Thomas on fourth-and-two. Smothered by Lake Zurich defenders, he just made it into the end zone for a touchdown, and the Titans led 7-0.
The Bears had their finest minutes of the game on their next possession, when they answered back with a 14-play, 77-yard drive to knot the score. Starting at their own 27-yard line, Shield started things off with an 11-yard run. He then picked up three more yards before being tackled by Cimino and Damon Roznowski. Another 4-yard pick-up by Shield made it third-and-three for Lake Zurich on their own 45-yard line. After a run by Connor Schrader, Kuhn ran the ball on a keeper to the Boylan 31-yard line.
After a series of short runs, including Shield’s 2-yard gainer on fourth-and-one at the 22-yard-line, Schrader broke through for a 9-yard gain down to the nine-yard line. After Shield rushed for four yards to the 1-yard line, he broke through for a touchdown and a 7-7 tie with 5:57 remaining in the half.
The Titans proved their mettle when they responded with a 17-play drive that resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Sean Slattery and a 10-7 lead to close out the half.
Starting at their 20-yard line, they picked up 13 yards on a Toney keeper, as he dashed along the left sideline before being knocked out of bounds by Chris Rantis. The back-breaker for the Bears was a questionable pass interference penalty against Lynn that moved the ball to Lake Zurich’s 31-yard line.
Thomas then motored 13 yards to the Bears’ 18-yard line. After Toney connected with Danny Appino for a 7-yard gain later in the drive, Cimino got three more yards to advance to the Bears' 6-yard line. Toney then advanced to the 1-yard line on a keeper, bringing up fourth-and-goal with one second left before halftime. Slattery then kicked it through the uprights for a 10-7 Titans advantage.
Boylan struck quickly on their opening drive of the third quarter. After DeMarcus Vines returned the opening kickoff to the Titans' 32-yard line, and Toney completed a 2-yard pas to Marquez Beeks, Thomas found the crease for a 66-yard touchdown run. After the extra point was missed, Boylan led 16-7.
After the Bears were stopped at their own 42-yard line, Weber launched another booming kick to the Titan’s 14-yard line. Toney’s sideways pass to Vines resulted in a 7-yard loss as he was pushed back and tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Boylan eventually punted from their own 13-yard line. Slattery’s punt was low and short, and the Bears started at the Titan’s 34-yard line.
After Shield picked up 9 yards, Kuhn was stopped for a loss of 2 yards, bring up a third-and-two situation. Shield then pushed forward, falling just short of a first down. Kuhn then burst through for a first down on a keeper.
The Bears gained just two more yards before bringing in Mike Leiva for a field goal attempt. Leiva nailed it from 40 yards, and the Bears were down 16-10 with 3:25 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bears still had more than a quarter remaining to catch up and overtake Boylan, but Leiva’s field goal would turn out to be the final points that Lake Zurich would score this season, and the final points of the contest as well.
The Titans started at their 20-yard line when Weber kicked the ball into the end zone for a touchback after the field goal by Leiva. After Toney ran the ball to the 30-yard line for a first down, the Bears’ defense held Boylan and they were forced to punt.
But Lake Zurich went three-and-done on their next possession. Weber got off another monster punt, and the Titans started at their own 5-yard line. In fact, after Cimino lost control of the ball, the Bears almost recovered the ball before several Boylan players fell on it.
“Sometimes things go your way, and that can be the difference,” said Kuhn.
In spite of keeping the Titans fairly deep in their own territory for the balance of the game, Lake Zurich wasn’t able to manage another sustained offensive drive. Coach Bryan Stortz elected to bring in starting quarterback Zach Till, recovering from a high ankle sprain, on the Bears’ second-to-last series.
Obviously still hampered by his injury, Till tried in vain to find a receiver downfield for a quick, long strike, but came up empty on four consecutive passing plays, and the Bears turned the ball over on downs with 1:45 remaining in the game.
Strong to the very end, he Bears defense forced a three-and-out against Boylan, and got the ball with 0:14 remaining. Till came back out but through an interception on the final offensive play of the Bears’ 2011 season.
Lake Zurich fell one game shy of traveling to Champaign for the final game for the second straight year. They weren’t expected to get this far by most outside observers, but they continuously confounded the so-called experts by playing as underdogs and winning. With a stout defensive line, an athletic defensive secondary, an excellent special teams and a solid rushing game — including the running of quarterbacks Till and Kuhn — they kept forging ahead.
“It hurts, but it’s part of the game,” said Kuhn. “Someone’s got to come up short, and today it was us.”
Bears Pause: In his final game with Bears, Mike Shield rushed for 70 yards on 20 carries. Senior Steven Kuhn closed out his career with Lake Zurich by completing three of seven passes for 29 yards. He also rushed for 40 yards on nine carries. Bryan Stortz showed class by inserting Zach Till into the game late in the fourth quarter, allowing him to close out his career with the Bears on the field instead of watching on the sidelines. Credit Steven Kuhn for doing an excellent job taking over for the injured Till during the last three playoff games. Good luck to all of the senior players on their future endeavors, and thanks for a wonderful season.