Lake Zurich advances to 7A semifinals with wild win at Pekin

PEKIN - Early Saturday morning Ron Planz took his Lake Zurich football team on a three-hour sojourn south by southwest to Pekin for a midafternoon Class 7A quarterfinal tilt in the Dragons' Fire Pit seeking to extinguish a postseason flame that hadn't burned so bright since 1988.

It would take a proverbial relighting of its pilot light plus some late game heroics to keep that flame lit for the 11th-seeded Bears, but it successfully did so edging the third-seeded hosts 29-27 at Pekin Memorial Stadium in front of an estimated crowd of 7,000 to advance to the semifinal round next Saturday versus Batavia in a rematch of the 2017 state championship game.

The No. 18 Bulldogs (9-3) bested No. 7 Yorkville (10-2) at home 17-6 earlier Saturday.

"We don't quit. We haven't quit all season," Planz said. "I didn't expect them to quit now. When we came out in the (second) half and scored, we felt like we were going to own the half."

Lake Zurich (11-1) didn't begin to take that ownership until it spotted the Dragons a 21-7 advantage courtesy of a late third quarter 2-yard Kanye Tyler TD run. That score was set up by the recovery of a blocked punt which set them up at the Bears' 44-yard line three plays earlier.

It was at that moment that Lake Zurich senior Tyler Erkman got the Bears' fire lit when on the ensuing kickoff he recovered a squib kick at his own 28, broke a pair of tackles and then took off on a 72-yard touchdown return that pulled them within 21-14 at period's end.

Then after getting a defensive stop at their own 29 on Pekin's next offensive series, the visitors went on a game-winning 10-play, 71-yard march to pay dirt when Erkman (3 receptions, 54 yards) achieved separation from his Dragon defender and snared an 8-yard Austin Gondeck pass in the end zone that brought them within 21-20 with 4:53 left.

Gondeck then found Nikola Stanimorov in the end zone for the two-point conversion and 22-21 advantage. It came after Pekin was called for a false start on the Bears' first conversion try moving the football to the 1-yard line.

The Lake Zurich defense came to the rescue on the next three Pekin possessions over the game's final three minutes.

First, junior DB Lincoln Adams picked off Dragons QB Scotty Jordan (13 for 26 passing for 165 yards) for the unit's third time with 2:46 left.

Next came a Tyler Burkley fumble recovery in the end zone that came from a botched Pekin play that made it 29-21 with 1:22 remaining.

Then after Jordan connected with Tyler on a 47-yard TD pass with just seven seconds remaining in regulation, it would be Erkman as a linebacker who repudiated Taylor Sprecher (28 carries, 197 yards) at the 1 on the subsequent two-point try to preserve the win.

"We knew they were going to run the ball. It was just a matter of meeting them at the gap," Erkman said. "We did pretty well. We shot the gap and we were (able) to go on and make the stop."

Erkman also spoke of his team's resiliency that has it in the program's 10th semifinal and first since 2017.

"We knew going into halftime (trailing 7-0) that we needed to make some big plays," Erkman said. "We believe in each other and that's really all it took."

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