Plenty at stake between Crystal Lake Central, Grayslake North

CRYSTAL LAKE – There is no overstating the importance of Friday’s game when Grayslake North visits Crystal Lake Central at Owen Metcalf Field.

“We realize the implications of this game,” Central offensive tackle Cody Hodges said. “This is kind of like a third-round playoff type of game. This is for the [division] title and we’re going to leave it all out there.”

North (5-0 overall, 3-0 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division) and Central (4-1, 2-0) have established themselves as the division’s best teams. Whichever team loses knows any outside help of getting a share of the Fox Division championship is unlikely.

“It’s a big game for the division,” Central coach Matt Fralick said. “We’ve been battling Grayslake North for a few years and whoever wins this game is going to have an advantage the rest of the way out.”

The Tigers suffered their only loss to Crystal Lake South. North has beaten every opponent except Johnsburg by double digits. The Knights beat Central last season, 32-20, to win the division outright. In 2011, Central beat North and those two teams shared the title with Woodstock North.

Central has won three consecutive games since its loss to South. Hodges remembers a message on the weightroom board the day after the loss that read: “It’s not a good morning, but it’s morning, which means the world didn’t end last night.”

“That definitely was something that stuck in our minds and we kept working hard,” Hodges said. “We all realized we put in too much work to just lie down. I’m fired up. The O-line is ready to go.”

Central and North both will run pistol option sets, usually with one back. The Tigers like a hurry-up offense with quarterback Kyle Lavand running things. Running back Ryan Williams has run for 384 yards and wide receiver Jack Ortner leads the area with 43 receptions.

A.J. Fish, the Knights’ dangerous two-way quarterback threat, graduated, but sophomore Merrick Gentile has passed for 689 yards and run for 659.

“Merrick is a tremendous competitor,” Knights coach Steve Wood said. “I have never coached a kid that wants to excel more than he does. Every day, he is getting better and more confident.”

North also has running back Titus Booker, who won the FVC 100 meters title last spring, back near full speed after recovering from an ankle sprain.

“Having that really good running back, we have to be sure not to leave our feet and to gang tackle,” Tigers linebacker Connor Hines said. “No mistakes. If we make a mistake, it’s going to hurt us. We have to keep our heads and stay positive and come out Friday night and get the job done.”

Fralick does not expect the Tigers’ defense to be able to shut down the Knights, who are averaging 41.2 points a game.

“We need to slow them down, we need to play physical,” Fralick said. “It starts with their running game and we’re kind of the same way. Two spread teams that are both balanced.”

Neither team will be lacking for any motivation.

“If we can take care of business right now, we’ll take care of business,” Hodges said.

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