For people who say that Lutheran only has a one-year window to go far into the playoffs in Class 2A, Crusaders coach Bruce Bazsali has a quick response.
“I don’t know why we couldn’t do it in an upper class, either,” he said. “If things go right, that’s what we want to happen in the future.”
But for now, the Crusaders will try to take advantage of playing in a smaller class. Lutheran will make its first playoff appearance in 10 years when it plays host to Rockridge at 6 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the Class 2A bracket.
Because Lutheran (8-1) has not won a playoff game in the last six years, the Crusaders are exempt from the IHSA’s private school multiplier rule. If Lutheran wins just one this year, it will be bumped up to either 3A or 4A next year, which is where all the other Big Northern Conference teams play.
“Psychologically, it certainly is an advantage for our kids,” Bazsali said about playing smaller schools than his team is used to playing in the regular season. “But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier.”
Rockridge (7-2) is a ground-and-pound team deep in the backfield that rarely passes. Its top runners are juniors Dalton McManus and Darren Southwell, senior Zack Foster and quarterback Nyle Stevens.
“People tell me they are physical,” Bazsali said. “But I can’t imagine seeing more physical teams than we’ve faced in Winnebago and Byron and Stillman Valley and Oregon, and even Rock Falls. All those teams come at you.”
One advantage Lutheran will have over many 2A teams is depth. The Crusaders have increased their numbers enough over the past three years so that only about four players go both ways.
“And even then, we sub them in and out, so our players do get a lot of rest,” Bazsali said.
If Lutheran wins, the Crusaders move on to either Morrison (6-3) or Aledo Mercer County (9-0).
But win or lose, the Crusaders can still enjoy a season of overachievement. The doormat of the conference for most of the past 10 years, Lutheran shared the BNW title with Byron and is having its best season since it went 9-2 in 1999.
The key as been great balance on offense.
Freshman running back James Robinson leads Lutheran’s ground game 1,426 yards on 123 carries, an impressive 11.6 yards per carry. He has found the end zone 24 times.