The defining moment for Cary-Grove’s defense did not come in a football game this season.
It happened about a month before the Aug. 24 opener against St. Charles East. It was at the team camp conducted at Wisconsin-Whitewater in late July. It was there when defensive coordinator Don Sutherland, the mastermind of the Trojans’ vaunted 3-3-5 defense that has been so good for almost a decade, lit the fire.
“We weren’t playing very well or very physically,” safety Kasey Fields said. “Coach [Sutherland] really got on us and challenged us there.”
Sutherland’s rant had the exact positive effect for which he was hoping. C-G’s defense has allowed 222 yards a game and only 72 points for the season. Trojans head coach Brad Seaburg proudly points out that four of the touchdowns that have been scored on his team came against the second-team defense and another was a defensive fumble recovery against St. Charles East.
“We play really well as a team,” Seaburg said. “There’s not one single guy making every tackle. [Linebacker] Kyle Norberg stands out because he’s physically superior. We have a lot of guys come through who didn’t contribute last year, but put the time in the offseason and it’s paying dividends now.”
C-G (6-0 overall, 3-0 Fox Valley Conference Valley Division) is ranked No. 6 in The Associated Press Class 7A poll and hosts Huntley (4-2, 4-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Red Raiders will present a challenge with quarterback Kam Sallee throwing to wide receivers Bryce Beschorner, the area’s leading receiver, and Jake Lackovic.
But C-G’s defense will test Huntley as well.
“They run that as well as you possibly can,” Huntley coach John Hart said. “They have speed and quickness and an understanding of exactly what their role is. Those kids are real good football players.”
C-G has thrived with smaller, faster defensive players who pursue the ball well and make it extremely difficult to run the ball. This team, while a little bigger, still fits that mold.
“We have goals that we’re all working toward each week,” defensive end Mickey Duncan said. “We want to play hard and fast. We’re trying to get a shutout each week.”
Duncan, Norberg, safety Zach Marszal and linebacker Brock Bussenger are returning starters. Former fullback Patrick O’Malley has been tough after moving to noseguard. Seaburg pointed out defensive back Jakub Ksiazek and safety Matt Sutherland, Don’s son, as two players who have excelled in larger roles.
Duncan said the players agreed with coach Sutherland’s assessment of their summer camp performance and were critical of themselves, as well.
“We didn’t have our greatest performance in Whitewater,” Fields said. “We have a lot of athleticism and it was mostly a mental thing.”
The Trojans have not experienced many setbacks since that point.
“The key is they’re so fundamentally sound,” Hart said. “They keep the ball in front of them and wait for you to make a mistake. When they do force a turnover, it seems like they score 21 points in a few seconds.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.