FRANKFORT – Even without their best player available for the first four weeks of the season, the level of talent displayed by the Lincoln-Way East football team is pretty impressive.
Now, with standout A.J. Henning back in the fold after returning from a hip flexor injury, the capabilities demonstrated by the Griffins are downright awe-inspiring.
The Griffins (5-0, 3-0 Southwest Suburban Conference) flat out overwhelmed visiting Lincoln-Way Central, 38-0, on Friday evening in a contest that felt even more lopsided than that score.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the incredible potential of the offense with the return of Henning was the play of the Griffins’ defensive unit, which recorded its third consecutive shutout of the season. It is the first time in program history Lincoln-Way East has recorded three consecutive shutouts.
“Defensively, maybe we’ve been a little better than I thought we were going to be so far,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said.
The venerable defensive unit limited Lincoln-Way Central (3-2, 3-1 SSC) to less than 100 yards of total offense in the contest and only allowed the Knights inside of their own 30-yard line once in the game.
Offensively, the eagerly awaited return of Henning didn’t net much early. He opened the game with a 3-yard run on the Griffins’ first offensive play from scrimmage. But that led to a 39-yard field goal from Dominic Dzioban and later in the quarter, a drive inspired from hard running from Jordan Corbett allowed the Griffins to stretch their lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Lincoln-Way East went into the bag of tricks to get Henning loose for his first score of the season. Griffins quarterback Jack Baltz faked a run into the line, but hid the ball well on his hip, baiting the defense into allowing Henning to slip behind them.
Once the speedster was free, Henning was able to haul in a 54-yard pass reception without concern of any defenders near by.
“I came off the line a little slow and turned it into a post,” Henning said. “I saw the corner come up, and I knew it was a touchdown because I knew Baltz was going to air it out.”
Later in the quarter, he’d break a 61-yard run only to be run down from behind by a determined Lincoln-Way Central defender.
“I guess I’ve got to work on the conditioning some more,” Henning said with a laugh.
The second half was much the same dominance for the Griffins. Devon Williams, who has been the primary running back in Henning’s absence, busted free for an impressive 74-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Williams would finish with 151 rushing yards on only eight carries.
“We feel unstoppable right now,” Williams said. “Great O-line, great receivers, great overall play. Getting A.J. back, the lethal weapon, that makes us even better. Other defenses aren’t going to know what to do or what to say.”
Zvonar isn’t concerned about how he might manage the distribution with the wealth of offensive weapons that he has at his disposal.
“It’s been fun. There hasn’t been an ounce of animosity, or jealousy of any type about who gets the ball more,” Zvonar said. “We’re not quite firing on all cylinders yet, but maybe not being at our best at this point is a good thing.”