New team, same result in 34-0 win over South

If you looked at just the jersey numbers and starting roster, you’d see a completely new Cary-Grove Trojans team for 2019’s first kickoff. 

If you looked at the scoreboard at the end of the game, however, you’d see those new names have the familiar attribute of dominating football games. 

The Trojan’s 34-0 shutout over Crystal Lake South silenced whispers about whether or not this new team could carry on the excellence, while also creating a new identity for this season and introducing its star players. 

On the offensive end, a nearly completely rebuilt offensive line showed off the hard work they put in all offseason, doing a great job protecting the backfield led by returning senior fullback Blake Skol (2 TDs) and senior QB Luke Eleftheriou (2 TDs) in his first start under center. 

“They really stepped up, and they really proved themselves tonight,” Eleftheriou said of the new O-line, which comprises new starters Ryan Beeksma, Nathan Gamez, Zach Stolz, and Joe Swanson, and returning starters Nathan Desmet and Evan Hissong.

Among other starters, new backfield ball carriers Arik Mistak (junior, moved from defensive starting spot last season) and Wade Abrams (sophomore) shined in their new position alongside Eleftheriou and Skol. 

“Any time you can get all four of those [backfield] guys involved,” Coach Brad Seaburg said, “defenses have to respect you a little bit more.”

On the defensive side, the scoreboard speaks for itself: the goose egg under the home team. Led by only four returning starters, CG’s dominating defensive talent limited the offensive production of CL South’s above-average offense and created opportunities and more time for the CG offensive unit. The standout play was the very first series of the second half, when CG seniors Evan Taylor and Mitchel Dec caused and recovered a fumble, ending the Gators’ comeback attempt. 

“That was a huge play,” said Skol, who sometimes played both ways as a safety as well as fullback. “They were driving. A turnover on that is exactly what great defenses do.”

The Trojans were not the only shutdown defense, however. Shutouts seemed to be the norm for the FVC’s “big three” of recent years Friday night. Prairie Ridge took down Crystal Lake Central 40-0, while Huntley romped over McHenry 56-0.

Those blowouts are no surprise — it won’t be an easy path, and it never has been. Challenges are good, and as we have seen in past seasons, a Fox Valley Conference title run prepares a team for the playoffs like nothing else. 

This Friday, the Trojans will host the Crystal Lake Central Tigers in the home opener, looking to improve to 2-0 on the season.

“We’re still hungry,” Eleftheriou said. “We got game one finished, on to game two. We need four more [wins] for the playoffs.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a title defense season or not, every year of high school football brings a new team and, with it, concerns and questions. Will a bad team be good? Vice versa? Will the loss of so many senior starters affect a team? How will new starters do in their first game? 

In many cases, like the Trojans’, it’s true that the jersey numbers are different and the starting roster may be unfamiliar. But certain qualities carry on just the same. Why do the Trojans train so much in the offseason? It builds a new identity combined with similarities in determination and talent to create what has been the recipe for success in years past. 

How do you surpass expectations heading into the season? I’d say a 30-point shutout will work. Now, it’s about stepping it up every week — and smashing more expectations in the process.