Bears

Moskal, Soucy spark Lake Zurich defense

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Moskal, Soucy spark Lake Zurich defense

Most state championship teams feature at least one high profile player who is a Division I recruit or has All-State credentials...like Aaron Bailey, Jason Westerkamp, Matt Alviti, Matt Perez, Reilly O'Toole, John Dergo, Ryan Clifford, Jon Beutjer or Dave Schwabe.

Lake Zurich hopes to be an exception.

"We have a lot of good high school players," coach Dave Proffitt said. "We don't have a marquee player like Jack Lynn (last year's All-State linebacker who went to Minnesota).

"The word 'team' explains what Lake Zurich is all about this year. We have kids who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team like changing positions or play on the scout team to get the starters ready. We have 60 kids on the same page, trying to make each other better."

Lake Zurich (10-2) is riding high after upsetting two-time defending state champion Rockford Boylan 21-6 in the quarterfinals, snapping the Titans' 39-game winning streak. The Bears have allowed only 63 points, only 12 in three playoff games.

But the road to Champaign doesn't get any easier. Lake Zurich will face an even tougher test at 1 p.m. Saturday against top-seeded Glenbard West (12-0) in Glen Ellyn. It marks the third time in four years that the two schools have met in the semifinals of the Class 7A playoff.

"We have to do what we do best," Proffitt said. "Trickery at this level? Forget it. We have to run the ball, not turn it over and our kicking game has to be top-notch. We have to be able to get them off the field on third down consistently."

Proffitt said Lake Zurich has two things going for it.

"In the last four or five weeks our offense has controlled the ball and the clock. And our defense has been able to get opponents off the field on third down," the first-year coach said.

The Bears' 3-3-5 defense has been led by 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior linebacker Colton Moskal and 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior free safety Grant Soucy. Moskal is the team's leading tackler, a two-year starter. Soucy started at cornerback as a sophomore and junior and also starts at wide receiver.

Proffitt has run the 3-3-5 for seven years, including two at Cary-Grove. But he likes it for different reasons. Most coaches employ the 3-3-5 to counter spread offenses. Proffitt uses it because he doesn't have to rely on big players but smaller, quicker and more athletic players.

"I believe the 3-3-5 can give running teams as much difficulty if you scheme it right as the conventional 3-4 or 4-3. It's like having your strength up the middle on a baseball team with the catcher and shortstop and center fielder."

Moskal describes Lake Zurich's success--the Bears won a state title in 2007 and were second in 2006 and 2010 under former coach Bryan Stortz--as "a bunch of guys buying into a system and playing as one unit, all 11 on defense flying to the ball and trying to make plays."

All 11 flying to the ball? "It's all having your own responsibility and doing your job, trusting that everyone else will do their job. No one thinks about individual glory. It doesn't make a difference who makes the play as long as we get it done," Moskal said.

"Our edge is hard-nosed Lake Zurich football. We want to carry on the winning tradition. If one guy goes down, another has to step up and make plays. We have a lot of returnees. We know what a playoff atmosphere is all about. We know every game will be a dogfight."

Soucy is one of seven senior captains. That's right, seven: "We never had that before. We had an intense interview process. We had to write essays. We talked to the other players and they voted. It came down to seven, each with different styles, all contributing to the success of the team. "

The other captains are defensive linemen Jack Sweeney and Rocky Triggiano, strong safety Robert Rossdeutcher, fullback Connor Schrader, slotback Jake Stauner and offensive lineman Jerry Bauer.

"We are very selfless. We always want to play our best for each other and for others who were in the program in past years," Soucy said. "The program is about family. We spend so much time together. We are a second family to everyone. We're all willing to do anything to help each other, even outside of football. We form bonds during practice and in the off-season. We do everything as a team, not as individuals."

On the field, nobody thinks about newspaper headlines or video on YouTube or High School Lites or High School Cube. It's all about T-E-A-M.

"All those special players, the Division I prospect, have statistics and numbers," Soucy said. "But anyone can win on given day. If we go 100 percent and hold nothing back for four quarters, we can outplay any team.

"It's something unique in football. Some teams may have pure talent but if they don't go 100 percent for all four quarters, they won't get the end result they want. In the Lake Zurich program, you want are exhausted on one play and then want to come back and fight as hard as you can. You don't want to let your teammates down."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.