LAKE FOREST – Cary-Grove senior Kyle Norberg was a wide-eyed freshman soaking everything in from the sideline the last time the Trojans played in a Class 6A football playoff semifinal.
Norberg and a few of his freshman buddies actually got into the game late when C-G defeated Prairie Ridge, 40-7, on its way to winning the Class 6A state title a week later.
“It was crazy,” Norberg said of the experience. “I was kind of enjoying everything. I can only imagine what those [upperclassmen] were feeling. It’s kind of crazy that we could be in that same situation.”
The Trojans (12-0) will not have to imagine after today. They are the top-seeded team in the northern half of Class 6A and visit No. 10 Lake Forest (9-3) at 4 p.m. on Lake Forest’s West Campus in a Class 6A semifinal. The winner advances to Champaign to meet either Crete-Monee (12-0) or Lemont (11-1) at 1 p.m. Nov. 24 for the state title.
While C-G was expected to be here, Lake Forest is a bit of a surprise. The Scouts were 6-3 in the regular season, 3-3 in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division, but they have defeated Rolling Meadows, 42-24, Lakes, 23-21, and Niles Notre Dame, 31-19, to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1978.
“More than anything we’ve persevered,” Lake Forest coach Chuck Spagnoli said. “We’ve just played hard and played together. It’s really not much more than that.”
Lake Forest will pass more than many of the teams C-G has seen. Quarterback Andrew Clifford has thrown for more than 2,000 yards, and receivers Nick Giardano and David Glenn both have more than 40 receptions.
Junior linebackers Trent Williams and Jack Kutschke, along with senior defensive tackle Thomas Kutschke, lead the defense. Spagnoli knows his team is facing one of the state’s best option offenses.
“They’re really strong offensively in terms of running the football,” Spagnoli said. “The fullback and quarterback are keys to what they do. That’s a huge challenge for us.”
Norberg, the fullback, has 1,933 yards rushing. Quarterback Quinn Baker is masterful with the nuances of the option, and running back Ryan Mahoney is a big-play threat.
Those three were some of the freshmen called up to the varsity for the 2009 playoff run, although they had little to do with those outcomes. C-G had its closest game of the season in last week’s 7-0 win against Crystal Lake Central.
“We have a shot to make our own history,” Norberg said. “We know [Lake Forest] is a physical team from a tough conference. They’re really fast. I worked out [at Elite 7 in Barrington] with Jack Kutschke.
“We have a good game plan of what we want to do. As long as we execute that and cut down on the mistakes we had last game, we’ll be all right.”