Both the 2009 and 2010 season openers between Fremd and Lake Zurich went down to the wire; Friday's 2011 edition in Palatine did not follow suit.
Coming off of a second-place finish in Class 7A, the visiting Bears and a running back-by-committee offense did their best Jacob Brinlee impression and ran away with a 35-3 victory at Fremd's Hale Hildebrandt Field.
"The effort they gave is what we expect -- it was the same effort we gave in the previous years of close games," Lake Zurich head coach, Bryan Stortz said. "They went out fighting and batting and the difference was that our kids executed a little better."
Brinlee, who graduated this past spring as Lake Zurich's all-time leading rusher, was replaced by senior Mike Shield and junior Connor Schrader, who finished with a combined 246 rushing yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns (both by Shield).
Quarterback Zach Till, who started last season as a junior, was all set to go again, but a rolled ankle caused the Bears to call on senior backup Steven Kuhn, who looked like a seasoned veteran under center against the Vikes.
The 6-foot-4 hurler first got Lake Zurich rolling with his legs, scoring on a first-quarter 6-yard keeper over the left side. After Fremd's Andrew Stark drilled a 23-yard field goal to cut the Bears' lead to 7-3, Kuhn led Lake Zurich to another scoring drive in the second; he capped off the six-play drive with a near identical run, this time from three yards out.
After a series of three-and-outs from both sides, Lake Zurich's Minnesota-bound linebacker, Jack Lynn, picked off Fremd sophomore quarterback Sam Beutler with 1:06 remaining in the first half. The Bears then recorded another touchdown three plays later on a 6-yard TD pass from Kuhn to Grant Soucy.
"I got an unfortunate notification that I was starting last week and I really had to step up big in this game," Kuhn said. "My teammates, my coaches and the community got me ready and gave me all of the confidence in the world and I just went out and tried to give them my all tonight."
Fremd's Beutler, who took charge of the Vikings' offense midway through last season, struggled mightily against the Bears' defense, finishing 10-of-26 for 161 yards and three interceptions. He was credited with a fumble as well.
"We threw interceptions, we weren't able to establish the run, and in order for Sam to be more successful throwing the ball, we need to be able to run," said Fremd head coach Mike Donatucci, who will step down at the conclusion of this season after 19 years at the helm. "We were also out there way too long defensively.
"But this is going to help our guys. They've been in the heat of the battle, they went up against a tough, physical team and we could hang. We'll figure it out."
Just as the Bears had to replace Brinlee, the Vikings need to replace Justin Wallace, who ran behind a pair of Division-I offensive lineman last season in Ohio State's Brian Bobek and Northwestern's Jack Konopka. Fremd freshman Darius Burchette, who only saw action in the second half Friday, finished with 28 yards on nine attempts while senior A.J. McGhee led the Vikes with 30 yards on eight attempts.
Stat of the game: Lake Zurich's tandem running attack of Shield and Schrader combined to average more than 11 yards-per-carry against the Vikings.
It was over when: Lynn intercepted a Vikings' pass late in the first half, leading to a Bears' touchdown three plays later. Lake Zurich had all of the momentum and a 21-3 halftime advantage.
Quote of the night: "We want to be known for running the football and that is not going to change." -- Lake Zurich head coach Bryan Stortz