JOLIET – Brandon Bauer and Ben Christensen were quick to give all of the credit to their teammates for the big plays they came up with for Lincoln-Way East in its SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue Division opener at Joliet West on Friday.
While the two seniors’ display of humility was impressive, it also was obvious the pair deserved plenty of credit for helping the Griffins capture a 35-12 victory over the Tigers at Klootwyk Field.
Bauer rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and connected on 18 of 28 passes for 212 yards and a score.
“I have to give the O-line credit,” Bauer said of the group featuring left tackle Kurt Gavin, left guard Sammy Diehl, center Doug Barkauski, right guards Mike Lemmons and Nick Ronza and right tackle Tyler Lentz. “I don’t know how long I had in the pocket at times.
“Hunter Smith and I have been best friends for awhile, and he’s so tall, so I can trust him with everything. And with our other receivers, with Jeremy Nelson going down with an injury, we’ve got guys who are stepping in and making plays. This was a great win for us against a good Joliet West team. This was a really good first game in conference for us.”
Meanwhile, Christensen recorded three sacks, including one to halt a long drive at the start of the second quarter.
“We wanted to start out strong and set the tone, make no mental mistakes and get out and play good physical defense,” Christensen said. “My first sack was due to all of the other 10 guys on the field; I was just the lucky one that got my name called. It was all them.
“It’s big that we know that we can bear down. There was a real big goal-line situation and we didn’t want to let up a score and we were able to stop them. Since Week 1, we’ve responded well. The practice intensity has changed, and everything is just a notch higher.”
The Griffins (2-1, 1-0) scored twice in the initial 5:57 to grab a 14-0 lead and recorded six tackles for losses on West’s first two series.
Bauer scored from 3 yards out on a keeper 2:27 into the contest, and Liam Morrissey ran in from 4 yards out to give East the early 14-point lead.
The Tigers (2-1, 0-1) had a 15-play drive that reached East’s 5 but it ended when Christensen sacked Alex Tibble on the first play of the second quarter. East took a 21-0 lead after Morrissey scored on a 3-yard run with 3:30 left in the opening half.
“We were a little bit disappointed after Week 1, but we knew that we had an opportunity tonight against a quality opponent to find out a lot more about ourselves,” East coach Rob Zvonar said. “Coach (Jason) Aubry has one of his better groups, so it was kind of fun to come out here and, for the mos part, control the game.
“Overall, it was a very positive performance. Each phase of the game had some great moments. It was great first conference game for us to come over here and win, since this has been a tough place for us to play. Our kids responded and did some nice things.”
West finally scored with 7:24 remaining in the third quarter when Tibble (18 of 32 passing, 194 yards) threw a 34-yard pass to Xavier Smith (13 catches, 138 yards) to make it 21-6.
But East responded with a touchdown with 3:19 left in the third when Bauer tossed a six-yard pass to Hunter Smith. The Griffins scored again with 3:39 remaining when Nigel Muhammad ran down the right side for 58 yards.
Both sides got interceptions to stop opponent drives deep in their territory. Marcus Blackmon got a pick for West late in the second quarter, and East’s Peyton Nigro returned the favor early in the final period.
A large and supportive Tigers student section was rewarded for sticking around until the end as West scored with 32 seconds remaining when a bad snap on an East punt led to a blocked attempt that was recovered in the end zone by Juan Hernandez.
“We have to be able to finish that long drive, and if we do, it’s a one-score game and a different game,” West coach Jason Aubry said. “But East is a very, very solid team.
“We’ve played better, and I just don’t think that we played our best football tonight. I think that we’re a better football team than what we showed tonight. The schedule doesn’t get easier, so we’ve got to get better.”