Goss: Lincoln-Way West coach made right call
November 10, 2012 10:20PM
Lincoln Way West quarterback Justin Keuch (11) throws the ball against Joliet Catholic at Lincoln Way West High School in New Lenox, Illinois, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. | Michael DiNovo~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2012 11:37AM
Don’t knock Dave Ernst.
The Lincoln-Way West first-year coach, who runs the offense along with coordinator Dom DeLuca, could have decided to have his senior placekicker, Joe Leo, do his thing and send Saturday’s Class 5A quarterfinal against Joliet Catholic into a second overtime.
Instead, he rolled the dice, attempting the 2-point conversion that would have extended the Warriors’ best season ever. Junior quarterback Justin Keuch ran a keeper up the middle and came up inches short in the eyes of the only folks who really mattered, the officials.
Joliet Catholic, which received a superb effort from its often-maligned defense, survived 21-20 to stay alive. The scoreboard says West lost because the Warriors (8-4) did not convert the 2-point try.
Two thoughts about that: 1. Ernst made the right call going for the win, and 2. You could not help but come away with a huge dose of respect for the Warriors.
No one deserved to lose this one, certainly neither defense.
But it was a leg injury to West senior safety Andrew Gray on Joliet Catholic’s first offensive play in overtime that got the wheels turning about West going for the win rather than a tie, should that occasion arise.
“Andrew Gray is one of our best players, and he had just gone down,” Ernst explained. “So we were without one of our best tacklers.
“Plus, for Joliet Catholic, it starts with the way their guys all lift at Rudy’s Gym. Their line is so powerful, so the odds of us stopping them (in a subsequent overtime) were not real good.”
Ernst said if he had a mulligan he would go for the win again.
The middle keeper Keuch ran was a play the Warriors had practiced since summer, “just for an occasion like this,” Ernst said. “I almost changed the play, but we believe in it and the guys invested in it. I’ll have to look at the film. I’m not sure if he (Keuch) got in or not.”
It hurt to have it end that way, at the goal line, but all Saturday did was make Ernst, always the class act, appreciate his first team as a head coach even more.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” he said. “I’m so proud to have my name associated with them.”
Ernst made it a point to discuss his All-Everything offensive tackle, Colin McGovern, who tore a ligament in his left knee in last week’s win over Kaneland.
“You can’t imagine what Colin had to do this week to be able to play, and on one leg,” said Ernst, a longtime offensive coordinator in this area. “He is a man. He is the best player I have ever coached and one of the finest people I know.”
“It is great what we did this year, but I still feel we could have gone all the way,” a teary-eyed McGovern said. “There was something special about this team. I would go to war with any one of these guys.”
Joliet Catholic got a good look at how great a player Notre Dame is getting in McGovern. The Hilltoppers also came away with the realization they survived against a lightning-quick defense that is as good as any they have seen.
Yes, Joliet Catholic’s USC-bound running back Ty Isaac is a difference-maker. The Hilltoppers don’t advance without Isaac’s two touchdown runs, including a 92-yarder.
Despite the injury issues that have limited his senior season, Isaac finished with 180 yards to push his career rushing total to 5,038. J.R. Zwierzynski’s school record is 5,070.
When Isaac exited late in the third quarter after reinjuring his groin, however, Joliet Catholic’s fate fell into the lap of its defense. Junior linebacker Zach Rezin’s stop at the goal line on West’s 2-point conversion attempt stamped the exclamation point on the unit’s excellent day’s work. Rezin was in on seven tackles. Linebackers Matt Madrigal and Kevin Jensen made 10 and eight, respectively.
“Our defense played its best game of the season, and we needed it,” Hilltoppers coach Dan Sharp said. “It was one of the best defensive efforts since I’ve been here. We had a couple interceptions (both by senior cornerback Grant Harrison), and we stopped the 2-point conversion that was a deceptive play. It was a great call on their part.
“Our offense did not play as well as it should have, although that could have been their (Warriors) defensive aggressiveness and quickness. This wound up being a throwback game. Our alumni should have liked it. This could have been a Joliet Catholic game in the ’70s.”
The game was scheduled for 1 p.m. and kicked off at 2:22 because of a lightning delay. No matter.
Joliet Catholic has been in so many big games through the years, and this was West’s first trek to the quarterfinals. No effect there, either.
This one came down to a matter of inches, and how the officials saw those inches.
The shame is one of these teams will not be playing in the semifinals.