MUNDELEIN, Ill. -- The Carmel defense needed another crunch-time stop.
Coming off last week’s final stand at Addison Trail, the Corsairs had more confidence in themselves to reverse their regular-season fortune and pull out the tight games.
But on Friday, facing a third-and-3 and trailing by five points, the defense could not stop the Crystal Lake South offense as the Gators marched into Mundelein and beat Carmel, 14-9.
Though the Gators pride themselves on not having any star players, newly converted running back Reese Dziedzic was a handful for Carmel between the tackles, pacing the Gators offense with 30 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown.
“Last game was my first starting two-back game,” the senior said. “I’ve been playing linebacker all year but I’m happy to help the team in any way.”
The key matchup coming into the game was Carmel’s high-powered triple option offense and Crystal Lake South’s impenetrable defense. Carmel had a hard time running up the middle and was not able to get its running game going until late in the fourth quarter when it was too late.
Crystal Lake South head coach Chuck Ahsmann said that his 3-5-3 defense was able to handle Carmel’s offense because of its experience with the triple option within its own conference.
“Fortunately, we see this offense twice in our conference with Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge,” Ahsmann said. “We went to this defense about five years ago to try to stop those two teams and if we matched up against [Carmel] in the playoffs.”
The Gators started off fast on offense with a 13-play, 69-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Dziedzic. That drive immediately made a statement to Carmel and all of the spectators.
“It set the tone,” Ahsmann said. “Maybe they took us a little too lightly. They’ve pounded us pretty good the past couple times we’ve played them in the playoffs. Coming in and doing that and being able to maintain it for the rest of the game was huge.”
The Corsairs were only able to put three points on the board in the first half as senior running back Jordan Kos (19 carries, 83 yards) was only able to gain 42 yards on 10 carries by the break.
Like the first half, the Gators scored on their first drive in the second half as quarterback Austin Fowler found senior tight end Dom Winiecki on a slant for a 79-yard score putting them up 14-3. That touchdown was also the first of Winiecki’s career.
The momentum seemed to shift slightly in the fourth quarter when the Corsairs were driving and running back Mike Panico (12 carries, 54 yards) seemed to go out of bounds after a couple-yard gain. The Gators defense didn’t realize that he never actually went out and Panico scrambled for a few more yards and a first down. Panico later punched it in from one yard out for Carmel’s only touchdown of the game. The two-point conversion was no good as Kos, Carmel’s all-time leading rusher, ran into a wall of white at the 1-yard line, preventing Carmel from pulling within three.
On the following possession for the Gators, Ahsmann faced a fourth-and- 1 at his own 22-yard line. Ahsmann, who claims to not be much of a gambling man, told his punter Brad Walovitch to run for the first down if he thought he could make it. And if he didn’t make it?
“They’ll score and they’ll win.” Ahsmann said to Walovitch.
Luckily for Ahsmann and the Gators, Walovitch made it. By a nose.
Player of the game: In only his second start this year at running back, Dziedzic was impressive. He used his 6-0, 210-pound frame to plow over defenders and also showed nice ability to cut back to find the open lane.
Stat of the game: Austin Fowler was 1-for-4 passing for 79 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His only completion was a 79-yard strike that gave the Gators a boost to start the second half that continued for the rest of the game.
It was over when: After Carmel used up all of their timeouts, Dziedzic ran for seven yards on a third-and-3 to essentially seal the deal for the Gators.
Quote of the night: “We moved Reese from linebacker to running back and it’s made a huge difference. He’s a hell of a football player. During the course of the season, we felt we needed him on defense. We thought that we needed to stop teams first and then score a couple of points and we’ll probably win the game. Now that we are in the playoffs, some other guys have come along. But Reese is a heck of a running back.” – Crystal Lake South coach Chuck Ahsmann on senior Reese Dziedic’s transition to running back.