STREATOR – Cobblestone sidewalks, neighborhood stadiums and ground-based offenses highlight the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West football culture.
Well-traveled Kaneland could adopt only one of those staples for Friday’s conference crossover, although it eventually drew parallels to the other two.
The Knights gashed Streator for 224 rushing yards in the first half of a 41-0 victory, consistently clearing paths while making themselves at home.
Kaneland’s stable of strong, shifty backs did the same thing when three-time defending NI Big 12 West champ Sterling visited Maple Park last week. Imagine the execution against the beleaguered Bulldogs, who fell to 0-4 and haven’t won a game since Week 9 of the 2009 season.
“Same as every week. Just get a hat on a hat, focus on our job and know our situations,” junior offensive tackle Alex Snyder said. “We went out and did what the coaches wanted us to do, and they drew it up perfectly.”
A year after routing LaSalle-Peru, 56-14, in their NI Big 12 road crossover, the Knights ventured farther south into LaSalle County to secure the program’s fourth 4-0 start in seven seasons.
Once again, a streetwise fan base flanked them, with some spectators budgeting detours into the trip.
Denise and Mark Goress, parents of senior linebacker/running back Dan, visited Snug Harbor Marina, a favorite pub that sits along the Illinois River in Marseilles, before the game.
“We took the back roads, had a burger on the way out. It’s a beautiful night. Not too bad,” Denise Goress said. “If we hadn’t stopped, it wouldn’t have been much more than an hour.”
Call it a far more blissful travelogue than the one Kaneland’s girls tennis team authored earlier this week. After sweeping Ottawa, 7-0, in a match played about 15 miles north of here, the Knights stopped for dinner, too. Their sputtering bus broke down moments later.
Kaneland’s football season began with trips to Chicago, Huntley and Streator – a semi-secluded city that stands at least a 15-minute drive from Interstates 39 and 80 – in three of the first four weeks.
After Friday, only familiar league trips to Rochelle (Week 5) and Yorkville (Week 7) remain in the regular season. The Knights get three of their five NI Big 12 East games – DeKalb, Sycamore and Morris – at Peterson Field.
Kaneland limited the mileage of its top contributors on both sides of the ball against the Bulldogs, getting the reserves into the game by the late stages of the first half. The offense scored on each of its first five possessions, capitalizing after brisk scoring drives of 3:39, 1:59, 1:55, 0:14 and 1:49.
Senior linebacker Ryan Lawrence’s 34-yard interception return touchdown with 4:53 to go before intermission triggered the running clock for the second half. Lawrence also eclipsed Dylan Nauert – responsible for a one-play, 14-second drive after a 67-yard scoring run early in the second quarter – as the fastest Knight to the end zone. Both quickly found each other on the sideline after a banner moment for Lawrence.
“I don’t know if it was as much joking as it was celebration,” Lawrence said. “I mean, I’ve gone my whole high school career without an interception on defense, and for my first one to turn around for six points, it was pretty exciting.”
Jesse Balluff scored on runs of 10 and 4 yards for Kaneland’s first two touchdowns. The Knights did not lose yardage from scrimmage until a high shotgun snap sent backup quarterback Tyler Carlson scrambling with 2:17 to go before halftime.
“We’re feeling good,” Snyder said. “But obviously there’s work to be done, and we have stuff to prove.”
At least there won’t be as much road work for the trip to Rochelle. The Hubs play their home games just two counties over.
KANELAND 41, STREATOR 0
Kaneland 21 20 0 0 – 41
Streator 0 0 0 0 – 0
K – Balluff 10 run (Rodriguez kick), 8:14
K – Balluff 4 run (Rodriguez kick), 4:41
K _ Martinelli 22 pass from David (Rodriguez kick), 0:54
K – Nauert 67 run (Rodriguez kick), 10:56
K – Dyer 3 run (kick failed), 6:34
K – Lawrence 34 interception return, 4:53 (Rodriguez kick), 4:53