Lake Zurich’s mystique is alive and well as Bears improve to 7-1


Lake Zurich’s enrollment is getting smaller, the success on the lower levels isn’t quite what it used to be.

It was reasonable for Lake County football observers to wonder if Lake Zurich’s football success would continue.

The answer appears to be a convincing yes. After reaching the Class 7A semifinals last season, the Bears improved to 7-1 this year with a rainy 30-14 victory over Mundelein on Friday. The host Mustangs took a 14-10 lead in the third quarter, but LZ pulled away late.

“I know from the very beginning of the summer, we’ve done a lot to talk about the tradition of Lake Zurich,” fifth-year head coach Ron Planz said. “A lot of how it grew, where it came from, the origins of it, back to the early 2000s with coach (Mike) DiMatteo.”

Lake Zurich won one state title and played in five championship games between 2006-17. The success literally came from nowhere. The Bears hadn’t been to the playoffs in six years before reaching the semifinals in 2002 under DiMatteo. Coach Bryan Stortz then led LZ to a state title in ’07.

This was a reload year for the Bears after graduating 32 seniors from last season’s squad. Their only loss was by 4 points against Warren, a school more than twice the size of LZ.



“We really tried to let the guys know that it’s a special program, it’s a special community and you just don’t show up,” Planz said. “All this stuff, the Lake Zurich ‘mystique,’ if you will or the people who talk about how good the program has been, that just didn’t happen for nothing and they have to honor that.”

The Bears got a tough battle from Mundelein, which had dropped three in a row after a 4-0 start. The game featured a number of important momentum shifts and clutch third-down conversions, before LZ pulled away late behind Chris Pirrone’s 183 rushing yards.

One recent LZ tradition has been sets of brothers who are major contributors. The Bears have had the Sanborns and Dwyers in the recent past, with two notable legacies on this year’s squad in junior WR Jackson Piggott and sophomore DB Tyler Erkman. Chris Pirrone has his brother Alex serving as his backup running back.

“We are a very special group,” Chris Pirrone said. “It’s not just our senior class, we have juniors and sophomores stepping up in a big way, and the seniors are leaders.”



Pirrone scored the game’s first touchdown, and the Bears drove past midfield on their second possession, but an errant pitch was recovered by Mundelein’s Dominic Seminaro.

From there, Mundelein converted a third-and-11 and third-and-eight, then QB Daniel McNelly ran four sneaks gaining 14 yards behind center Brendan Raciak to reach the end zone.

Jesus Vilchis booted a 36-yard field goal to give Lake Zzurich a 10-7 lead at halftime. To open the third quarter, LZ muffed a short kickoff and Mundelein’s James Krusinski recovered. Given a short field, the Mustangs quickly moved 32 yards and took a 17-14 lead on McNelly’s 1-yard sneak.

After the kickoff, the Bears got a huge third-down conversion, with QB Lucas Lappin hitting George Dicanio for a 48-yard gain. Five plays later, Pirrone scored from the 3 on fourth down.

Mundelein drove into LZ territory, but safety Nolan Siko made a leaping interception at the 28-yard line, his first of two on the night. After a holding penalty, Lappin converted a third-and-17 by hitting Nikolay Oblakov, who dove for the first down. From there, Pirrone carried seven straight times to set up Lappin’s 1-yard touchdown that made it 23-14 with 6:32 remaining. Pirrone finished the scoring with a 29-yard TD.

“I think we’re just a gritty, blue collar, tough, hard-nosed team this year,” Planz said. “Not a lot of flash, but a lot of grit, I guess would be a good word.”

McNelly ran for 73 yards and threw for 60. Mundelein (4-4, 2-4) has a chance to qualify for the playoffs with a win next week at Lake Forest.

“You want to play your best football at the end of the year,” Mundelein coach Vince DeFrancseco said. “I felt like the past couple weeks, it hasn’t been our best football. In games like this, you have to make plays late. We did enough to be in the game, but we’re close and I’m really proud of the way our kids competed.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports



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