No. 10 Lake Zurich moves on from title game heartbreak, reloads

Lake Zurich's Jackson Farsalas (76) drives straight ahead in the second day of practice. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Lake Zurich offensive lineman Andrew Miller has put last season behind him, but he hasn’t forgotten how the final moments felt after the Bears lost to Batavia in overtime in the Class 7A state championship game.

“At first it was just shock,” offensive lineman Andrew Miller said. “We were sitting in the locker room and didn’t really know what to do.”

Lake Zurich had a tremendous season. The Bears entered the championship undefeated. The defense allowed just nine points a game.

“The kids left everything on the field and seeing those seniors crushed, that was the hardest part of it,” Lake Zurich coach Luke Mertens said. “That moment when the final horn sounded, seeing those seniors cry was tough. There was nothing I could say to make it better.”

Lake Zurich players console one another after an overtime loss to Batavia in the 2017 Class 7A title game at Huskie Stadium. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Lake Zurich players console one another after an overtime loss to Batavia in the 2017 Class 7A title game at Huskie Stadium. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Miller said the school and community showed amazing support when the team returned home and neutrals even contacted Mertens.

“A lot of fans reached out and said that was one of the best high school games they’ve seen,” Mertens said. “I guess that is our legacy, we gave everyone a fun one.”

Lake Zurich’s legacy is also defense and that’s a prime reason the Bears start this season as the No. 10 team in the Sun-Times Super 25 rankings. Linebacker Jack Fabbrini states it clearly.

“We’re going to go out and be hard-nosed football players,” Fabbrini said. “Eleven guys running to the ball on every single play trying to get 11 hats on it. That’s how Lake Zurich has played defense since the beginning of time and that’s what we are going to continue to do.”

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There is plenty of talent on hand, led by linebacker Luke Dwyer, a North Dakota State recruit. Big things are expected of defensive lineman Jackson Farsalas and explosive wide receiver Jack Moses.

Mertens also has a prominent new face in practice. Matt McGraw, the starting quarterback at Grant the past two seasons, has transferred in.

Lake Zurich doesn’t name any starters during the summer. Mertens says they like to give every player equal reps. But he’s been impressed with McGraw’s attitude.

“It’s tough to come in to a new program like this that is established,” Mertens said. “All of a sudden you come into a new situation and no one knows you. What he has done best is coming in and being humble. He didn’t come in saying he was the starter and the guy. That was a very smart approach. I don’t think people would have accepted him if he did.”

Mertens has liked what he’s seen so far from senior Marek Enters, a linebacker and wide receiver.

“He played very sparingly last year,” Mertens said. “We have a lot of hard workers but he is right there for number one. He’s always giving his best effort. I’m very impressed with what he is bringing to the table on both sides of the ball.”

Keep an eye on senior running back/linebacker George Gritsonis.

“He was in an unfortunate situation last year because he played both positions Joey Stutzman played and Joey was one of our best players,” Mertens said. “George caught the short end of the stick. He handled it gracefully and was a good teammate. This year he’s worked his way into a new role, he’s now a leader of this team.”

The Bears have a slightly odd schedule with four home games to start the season before playing four of the last five on the road. The opener is Aug. 24 against Fremd.

LAKE ZURICH SCHEDULE
Aug. 24 vs. Fremd
Aug. 31 vs. Nazareth
Sep. 7 vs. Zion-Benton
Sep. 14 vs. Lake Forest
Sep. 21 at Stevenson
Sep. 28 at Libertyville
Oct. 5 at Warren
Oct. 12 vs. Mundelein
Oct. 20 at Waukegan

This is the first story in the Sun-Times 2018 Football Countdown series. The No. 9 ranked team will be revealed tomorrow.

More high school football stories:

Want the latest info and analysis on high school football? Our preps team of Michael O’Brien, Beth Long and Annie Costabile will share all the latest news, insights and Super 25 football rankings in a new livestream show called “Sun-Times Game Week.”  Our next preview show is Aug 20 at 4:30 p.m., then the regular season livestream show will be every Monday at 6:30 p.m. starting August 27. Like and follow our high school sports Facebook page to watch the show on FACEBOOK LIVE. You can also ask questions using the hashtag #SunTimesGameWeek.

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