NEW LENOX – Don’t let Nico Muto’s dimensions fool you.
He admits to be 5-foot-9 and 235 pounds, but good luck finding any baby fat on the junior.
And good luck tackling him when Lincoln-Way Central absolutely needs some tough yards.
Muto gained 82 such yards and scored two touchdowns on 15 carries in Lincoln-Way Central’s 28-14 victory over Kaneland on Friday night at Lashmet Field, the first for coach Jeremy Cordell.
The first four yards brought Central (1-1) its first touchdown, the payoff to linebacker Brandon Geagan’s timely interception of Kaneland quarterback Jake Marczuk on the game’s third snap, a pickoff aided by Mike Ceploski’s tip. Geagan returned the ball to the Kaneland 4, and Muto took it in from there.
“We needed to start the game fast, and we started it the right way,” Muto said. “Our defense stepped up. We’re going to be great this year. We just got it started right now.”
“That’s a big way to start the first quarter,” Cordell said. “We’re happy the way we came out of the gate. We’ve just got to continue to keep that momentum.”
Muto’s other big gainer was a 24-yard run in which he dragged up to three Kaneland players through the middle of the field at various times. Three carries later, he had enough left to bolt off the right tackle for an 11-yard score for a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
“That’s my usual game,” Muto said of his grinding.
“Nico is a very, very tough, hard-nosed, physical football player,” Cordell said. “He runs the ball very well for his size. He’s shifty, he’s quick, he’s got great speed and defenders have to be able to wrap him up. That’s a load.”
Muto’s exploits weren’t the only keys to rebounding from last week’s loss to Huntley. Central controlled the clock and ended up on the short end of only a 275-269 yardage reading because of Kaneland’s 74-yard scoring drive in the final minutes. But by the time Zachary Parker scored from the 1, it was too late to come back.
Cordell would have preferred that drive stop around the 50 rather than the end zone but saw improvement from the first week to the second, and sees room for much more.
“We have to clean up the penalties,” Cordell said. “Too many flags.”
Central’s defense also was stout. Marczuk was 14 of 26 for 173 yards, but was sacked four times, and Geagan’s interception in the game’s first minute set the tone. Kaneland (1-1) was held to 102 yards rushing, 71 before its final drive.
Central’s Dan Eber made it 14-0 with 6:18 left in the first quarter, hauling in Austin Strilko’s 41-yard pass on third-and-9. Strilko was 3 of 10 for 86 yards and scored Central’s last touchdown on a 25-yard bootleg 53 seconds into the final quarter, soon after Tanner Robertsen’s 63-yard TD reception cut the lead to 21-7 in the third quarter.
Central scored a 14-0 shutout in the sophomore game.