CHAMPAIGN – A week ago, Lincoln-Way West's defense made several big, early stops which helped them shut down a Peoria team that was averaging 47 points per contest to record their first-ever quarterfinal win.
On Saturday it was more of the same when coach Dave Ernst's Warriors met a Champaign Central squad that was averaging 43 points a game in the Class 5A semifinals.
In a strange twist that you don't often see in the latter rounds of the playoffs, West's defense used a similar set of circumstances to set the tone quickly against the Maroons.
West made a stop on a long fourth-down situation, got an interception and recorded a safety in the opening quarter to grab a 16-0 lead as they went on to capture a 42-14 victory which advances it to next Saturday's title game in DeKalb.
Champaign only had 71 yards of offense when the Warriors pulled their defensive starters with 4:25 left in the third quarter after taking a 42-0 lead to result in a running clock.
"This is unbelievable," said Deven Reed, who led West with eight tackles. "We just practice really hard and go on every snap. Our defense is all about 11 hats to the ball, that's how we play. You have to run to the ball if you want to be on this defense and that's what we do best. Our defense is close and together and we get it done.
"Our coaches are unbelievable. They know where to put us in when we're out there. This offense was hard since they run a lot of stuff but our coaches watch a lot of film and put us in the right positions to make plays."
Warriors defensive coordinator Luke Lokanc is understandably proud of how his defense has performed in the past three weeks, where his first-team defense has allowed just one touchdown, which came last week against Peoria.
He credits his staff of Mike Villa (backs), Mike Franta (line), Eric Doornkaat and Steve Bauer (linebackers) and his father, Larry, who assists him.
"First and foremost, we have unbelievable kids, and it starts with them," Luke Lokanc said. "And the coaching staff that we have on the defensive side of the ball is tremendous. They come up with great game plans and the kids listen and understand them. It might take all week but on game day it looks good. We just preach that they have to run and run and run."
Dan Wainwright and Danny Allen each added five tackles while Trey Telez, Cam Gavin and Josh Bohne each chipped in with four tackles for the Warriors.
"We've been playing against big-play, dangerous offenses all year, but we just play our game," Wainwright said. "I'm real proud of our defense. We're real close, have sophomores and juniors who make plays and have good senior leadership. Our coaches have taught us to never be happy and we're not going to be happy until we win a state championship."
Among the big plays in the first quarter were a sack by Telez that gave West the ball at Central's 31, a pickoff by Ryan Robbins at the Maroons' 27 and a safety by Bohne.
"It's a huge step for our program to be playing in the state finals," Bohne said. "We had never made it farther than the quarters but we played big in the semis and came up with a W. We've faced some high-scoring offenses and been able to shut them down. Our defense is playing great and we have to give it to our offense for putting points on the board."
West's defense will have to continue its impressive defensive play against a Nazareth Academy, last year's Class 6A champions, who is averaging over 40 points per contest.
"We knew that they were going to try to run on us but we don't really let that happen a lot," Gavin said. "We all play together on defense and know if we do something that our offense will do it back. This is the first time in school history that we're playing for a title, which is pretty impressive. We have to keep it going because this doesn't happen a lot in our town. "