Goss: Lincoln-Way East raises question: To punt or not to punt?
September 8, 2012 2:00AM
Lincoln-Way East's Nick Colangelo (15), at Friday night's game between Lockport and Lincoln-Way East. | Paul Bergstrom ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:22AM
This is not good for the rest of the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
Lincoln-Way East, already a state power, has something in its arsenal that is sure to cause nightmares for the special teams coaches of future foes.
Senior quarterback Tom Fuessel, just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm, also is the punter. On a couple of occasions in Friday night’s 35-0 conference win over Lockport, he took off from punt formation, either to boot a running punt, or indeed, forget about kicking and run for the sticks.
He gained 24 yards using the ploy when the Griffins needed 26 for a first down. Still, that pinned the Porters at their 16-yard line.
Later, he picked up four on a fourth-and-1 to allow East to maintain possession.
That added to a night where Fuessel rushed for 152 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown run.
So, how was this idea born, and who decides when it will be used again?
“We spent time at Northwestern this summer and did work there on the spread punt,” coach Rob Zvonar said. “It puts a lot of stress on the defense. Tom can punt, and he also can roll out.
“It’s our three-headed monster. Our call sometimes is to punt, sometimes is to run and sometimes we will tell him he can make the call. He is intelligent and athletic.”
“That’s coach Z’s call,” Fuessel said. “He can tell me whether he wants me to read it or not. It is something that can help us out. It did tonight.”
East (3-0, 1-0) has been to the state playoffs all 11 years of its existence and almost is sure to get there again. The Griffins always are strong defensively and Fuessel is leading another typically good offense.
But if there is a strategic move that may make a difference in a tight game, leave it to Zvonar and his staff to employ it.
In Friday’s game, Lockport (0-3, 0-1) was no pushover, trailing 6-0 late in the second quarter. But East converted Sean Doherty’s interception into a touchdown, and on the next possession, Doherty tacked on a safety when he tackled Lockport punter Aaron Ambrose in the end zone.
It is no knock on Ambrose, who is playing football for the first time this season, but the difference in special teams helped the Griffins pull away.
“We have a rookie punter who never played football and he made a couple of errors,” Porters coach Don McKillip said. “But even on the safety, I would rather have him take that than give up a touchdown.”
McKillip said, yes, there will be discussion this week about what East executed in the punting game, and what the Porters must do to prevent other opponents from doing the same.
“They have terrific special teams,” he said. “We will talk about their punts, that’s for sure.
“Those kinds of things hurt us. We can take positives out of this night, however. We hung right with them in the first half.”
Besides special teams, East invariably is strong defensively. A kid who epitomizes what the Griffins are all about on that side of the ball is senior linebacker Kyle Langenderfer, the defending 138-pound state wrestling champion. The football program says he is 5-foot-8, 150 pounds. He is not arguing with the 5-8 but says, “I’m walking around right at 160. That (150) isn’t right.”
Regardless, it’s not much size for a kid playing outside linebacker for a Class 7A program that is among the best. Yet he utilizes his quickness to get to the ball carrier or the quarterback — witness his highlight-reel 17-yard sack of Lockport’s Ryan Dalton that helped set up Doherty’s safety — and when he hits you, it sticks.
“It’s definitely part of the outside linebacker position, you have to be versatile,” Langenderfer said. “Of course, I have great people around me on defense, guys like (fellow linebackers Adam) O’Grady and (Mitch) Murphy.”
Nothing will be easy as East takes on Homewood-Flossmoor, Sandburg and Bolingbrook the next three weeks. Rest assured, the Griffins will be prepared for the challenge.
And in the event a bit of trickery is needed, perhaps on special teams, it will be available as well.