Old-school approach suits Bartlett just fine
By Erik Jacobsen firstname.lastname@example.org October 28, 2012 3:48PM
Bartlett quarterback Kyle Garcia fakes a handoff to fullback Nick Mazzei on Friday against Leyden. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 30, 2012 6:20AM
No school in the Elgin area can match Bartlett’s consistent success on the football field over the past decade-plus, and the Hawks proved over the weekend they are again the cream of the local crop this year.
Of the four area teams that reached the state playoffs, Bartlett was the only one to advance to the second round.
The Hawks did so by going on the road and grinding out a 14-0 victory against Leyden on Friday in Northlake.
This marks the 12th time in 13 years Bartlett has reached the playoffs, but this time the Hawks are getting the job done with an old-school approach. Whereas the most successful Bartlett teams of the past five years were well known for airing it out on offense, this season’s group has embraced the ground-and-pound blueprint former head coach Dick Stephens laid out when he started the program in the late 1990s.
Stephens, who had two successful stints as the head coach at Elgin High before taking over at Bartlett, has made a return to the sideline in recent years as an assistant on current Hawks coach Tom Meaney’s staff. What Stephens saw from the press box during the second half Friday night most certainly made him smile.
Bartlett was clinging to a 7-0 lead when it took over possession at its own 20-yard line with 9:17 left in the third quarter. What ensued was a 19-play drive that ate 11:05 off the clock.
The epic possession ended when quarterback Kyle Garcia scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge that gave the Hawks a commanding 14-0 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining.
“You don’t see too many drives that last 11 minutes and end in a touchdown,” Stephens said.
Added Garcia: “That’s just a typical Bartlett offense right there. We pretty much just ran it down their throats. Stop us if you can, and if not we’ll keep doing what we do.”
Bartlett’s star running back Aaron Everson has the speed and agility to break a long touchdown run on almost any play, but in some ways it seems the Hawks prefer to get their offensive yardage in smaller chunks.
In many ways Bartlett is running the epitome of a ball-control offense this year, but an 11-minute drive took things to a new extreme.
“We get a little bored,” Bartlett linebacker Kevin Kirchhoff said of watching from the sideline with his defensive teammates when the offense is at work. “It’s like, come on and score. We want to get out there and play, that’s what we’re here for.
“But it helps us out too. The best defense is a good offense.”
A smashmouth defense goes hand in hand with a ball-control offense, and Bartlett had both on display Friday.
The Hawks pitched their second shutout of the season by holding Leyden to only 198 yards and keeping the Eagles from scoring on their two trips into the red zone.
“I thought the outside linebackers coming across setting the edge were doing great, and the DBs didn’t let anybody get behind them,” Meaney said of his defense. “We’re built to make people earn touchdowns.”
Nothing will come easy for Bartlett in the second round when it hosts Loyola Academy. The Ramblers shredded Evanston 41-0 on Saturday to improve their record to 9-1, looking every bit like a state title contender in Class 8A.
While the next challenge figures to be immense for the Hawks, it beats the alternative of not playing at all. A year ago Bartlett squandered a big lead in a 45-42 first-round playoff loss against Lyons, making Friday’s low-scoring victory against Leyden that much sweeter.
“This feels great, especially coming back after last year’s loss leading by 25 at the half,” Kirchhoff said. “This is amazing.”