This was the game that will come to be seen as defining the 2011-2012 season for the Grayslake Rams football team, which is on its way to the best record since 2003-2004 when they went 8-3 and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Until last night, Grayslake Central has never beaten Crystal Lake Central in football at any level in the five years that Head Coach Nick Goshe has been at the helm of the Rams. This time, the Rams defeated Crystal Lake Central 10-7.
"We got what we expected," said Goshe. "A defensive battle, tough yards and two teams taking what the other would give and we came out on top. Crystal Lake Central is a lot like us. They are not going to let you beat them on big plays. Our defense came up big."
With the defense stacked against running back Joey Valdivia, the Rams took to the air to eat up yardage and clock time and then made the most of their opportunities. The Tigers were wide left on a 43-yard field goal attempt with 28 seconds left in the first half. The Rams went into the locker room at halftime with a 3-0 lead thanks to a 36-yard field goal by senior Jon Gurchak.
Senior Vince Smith made one outstanding grab after another to lead the Rams with 5 catches for 96 yards. "They’re a really good team," said Smith. "They bumped us off the line and their coverage was tight and we had to take what they were giving us."
Senior Quarterback Ray Beckman hit Smith with a pass to the 3-yard line before rushing in for a touchdown on the next play with 5:13 left in the 3rd quarter. The Rams were now up by a 10-0 margin that was thinner than the stripe on a tiger’s back.
Beckman was 12 of 22 for 169 yards on the night as Crystal Lake Central consistently packed the box to stop Valdivia on the run. Once the Ram coaches figured out the Tiger defensive scheme, Valdivia carried the ball 9 consecutive times for nearly 50 yards to end the game as the Rams ran out the clock. Senior tight end Jimmy Molitor had 2 catches for 28 yards.
Offensively, the Rams turned the ball over twice on an interception and a fumble following a long pass play. However, the Tigers were only able to capitalize on the one fumble, which led to their only score of the game with 4:53 left in the 4th quarter.
Sophomore fullback Connor Hines scored from 3 yards out on a 4th and 2 play.
The Rams kept their composure both times when they turned the ball over. At no time during the game did it seem that the team, the coaches or the fans were in doubt about the outcome of the game.
"We practice sudden change situations," said Goshe. "You saw two well coached teams who rolled with the changes."
The Grayslake Central defense showed last night why it is the best in the Fox Division this year. They swarmed to the ball and kept the potent Tiger offense out of the end zone for 2 1/2 quarters. The usual suspects were making big hits and big plays - Kristian Meehan, Jimmy Molitor, Steve Moioffer, Dylan Hay, Devon Osburn, Jake Paust and Nathan Malinski to name just a few.
Molitor had a sack and was mixing it up with the offensive line all night long. "Wrestling really helps me," he said. "It’s a very physical sport and it definitely helps me with balance and movement. I never thought that four years ago when I started playing football at the high school that we would be 6-0 my senior year."
Top Crystal Lake Central running back Gage Harrah was sidelined due to a strained medial collateral ligament on his right knee. "It’s feeling much better now," he said. "The doctor said I could come back for the 9th game, but I don’t want to come back too soon and ruin my college wrestling career." Harrah is the returning state champ at 215 lbs. with a record of 41-0 last year.
Even without Harrah, the Tigers still had a lot of offensive weapons in their formidable arsenal. "Their cupboard is not bare," said Goshe. "They have talent just gushing out of that school. They are big, fast, strong and extremely well coached by Matt Fralick."
Junior Matt MacAlpine ran for 141 yards on 28 carries. Quarterback Steve Lawless was 2 of 6 for 11 yards as the Tigers eschewed the passing game for a ground chewing offensive attack.
The fans were so noisy when Crystal Lake had the ball on offense that the team had difficulty hearing the snap count. The stands were packed as were the fences surrounding the field. Many alumni came back to be a part of the excitement that has been growing in Grayslake. Former Head Football Coach Bill Eiserman was in attendance and enjoying the game tremendously. He was really impressed with the boys, Coach Goshe and his staff and the students and community members who came out in numbers to support the team.
It was breast cancer awareness week at GCHS and the fans were decked out in so much pink it reflected off of the sky like a painting. As the students made the effort to knock out breast cancer, the football team was successful in their effort to knock off Crystal Lake Central to remain undefeated atop the Fox Division, with local rival Grayslake North.
After a flag lowering ceremony, the Rams made their way to the stands for the traditional countdown with their fans amidst the sounds of the Monkees singing "I’m A Believer."
It’s September and the Rams are undefeated and going to the playoffs. BELIEVE IT!
The Rams take their perfect 6-0 record to battle the 4-2 Woodstock North Thunder on THURSDAY, Oct. 6 at 7:15 p.m.
CORRECTION: The article has been corrected to state that Crystal Lake Central scored in the fourth quarter. Patch regrets the error.