Churubusco took Lakeland to task all game long and ran over the Lakers 38-16. The victory secured a fourth consecutive Northeast Corner Conference championship for the Eagles, and for the first time during that streak, Churubusco (8-1, 8-0 NECC) had a perfect record in conference play.
“We keep pretty close tabs on our guys all year round,” Churubusco coach Lee Etzler said. “And they do a great job. Our kids are pretty tough in general. We think that they work hard in general, so it's pretty easy for the coaching staff to work with this group of guys.”
The focus on Class 2A No.9 'Busco is often its offense, and with good reason. The Eagles average over 43 points per game, but against the Lakers (8-1, 7-1), the offense was sloppy early on and the Churubusco defense was given the responsibility to keep their team in the game.
The Eagles fumbled the opening kickoff before recovering it on their own one-yard line, and then on the second play from scrimmage, another 'Busco fumble was recovered by Lakeland for a safety, which gave the visitors a 2-0 lead. Etzler's group compounded its offensive problems by also throwing an interception on its first pass attempt.
“We didn't start the game off real well,” Etzler said. “I'm sure with a conference championship game we were a little bit nervous.”
However, as the offense struggled early, the 'Busco defense continued to stymie the typically potent Laker offense (averaging 44 points per game). The Eagles forced a couple of punts early and pressured Laker quarterback William Kelly throughout the night. And even when the Lakers did make runs or catch passes, the 'Busco defenders made vicious hits which resulted in a number of Lakeland players leaving the field slowly or with assistance.
“Our defense was going to have to play tough and I think that we showed that,” 'Busco linebacker Jason Nicodemus said. “Lakeland had some weapons and we knew that they were threatening offensively.”
Lakeland gained a meager 45 yards of rushing offense and 179 yards total (80 of which came on one play).
“Lakeland is a pretty explosive team and it is not easy to defend them,” Etzler said.
The Lakers utilize multiple formations and they often shift players for different plays immediately before the snap. This required the Eagle defenders to alter their assignments on a moments' notice yet still remained disciplined enough to make the proper read and play.
The Eagle offense – in particular Nicodemus – eventually got on track and the senior running back rushed for 217 yards and scored all five touchdowns for his team. However, as the theme of the night proved to be, the finale was again dictated by the defense.
With the Lakers driving in the final minutes to try and salvage some respectability by a program ('Busco) that has beaten it five consecutive years, senior cornerback Cody Schaefer ended that threat by making a circus-type catch on an interception of Kelly to seal the victory.
“We were excited for the challenge,” Nicodemus said of slowing the Lakers. “We love playing defense.”