MAPLE PARK – Dylan Nauert and the Kaneland football team left no doubt the Knights are ready for another eventful ride in the Class 5A playoffs.
Nauert plucked a trio of interceptions, part of a sparkling, all-around performance for top-seeded Kaneland in a 48-0, first-round thrashing of Belvidere on Saturday night.
"I've been studying all week, we've been studying their pass plays, [the coaches] have been preaching to read their breaks, read his feet, you can tell where they're going to go," Nauert said. "I saw the slant, I saw the out, I just broke on the ball, and it happened to be right there."
Kaneland (10-0) advances to a second-round game at Lincoln-Way West, which blanked Rochelle on Friday. Knights coach Tom Fedderly said he expects it to be a Saturday game.
Fedderly said Kaneland coaches had "some sleepless nights" digesting last year's first-round meeting with the Bucs, a wild, 51-45 Kaneland triumph. But while Belvidere (5-5) returned some key offensive pieces from that meeting – including senior quarterback Troy Vandenbroek and standout receiver Kane Steger – the Bucs' offense was overwhelmed this time by a bigger, brawnier Kaneland defensive line and a ball-hawking secondary.
Fedderly called the defensive performance Saturday "just outstanding." Junior cornerback JR Vest broke up a handful of passing plays, while Nauert flashed impressive instincts and athleticism throughout the night.
"We put him on their toughest kid, [Steger], who really torched us last year," Fedderly said. "[Nauert] had a big responsibility defensively, and he stepped up and played the game that we thought he could. He's so fast, and he read the ball coming out and made a break on that ball. He's just a special athlete."
Vandenbroek, the Bucs' starting QB since midway through his freshman year, was 11-for-25 passing for 58 yards and three interceptions before departing during the fourth quarter.
"He's a kid that just tries to make things happen, which he was trying to do tonight," Bucs coach Matt Weckler said. "He was a big part of our program the last four years. He did the best he could tonight I guess, but hat's off to Kaneland's defense. They're big up front, we knew they were big up front, and their secondary was able to match up as good as anybody has this year against us."
Offensively, Kaneland featured junior running back Jesse Balluff taking direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation early in the game, including a 41-yard scamper for the Knights' first touchdown less than 90 seconds in. Balluff added another 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal from the 1 a few minutes later as the Knights moved ahead, 14-0.
Balluff (17 carries, 111 rushing yards) thinks the Wildcat, which Kaneland has tinkered with in recent weeks, could remain a component of the Knights' offense as the playoffs move forward.
"I think Fedderly likes it, I really like it of course, and it's a lot of fun for the line, too," Balluff said.
Kaneland's lead ballooned to 27-0 in the second quarter thanks to a Drew David QB sneak for a touchdown and a pair of Matt Rodriguez field goals from 35 and 25 yards out.
After Kaneland's defense forced a Belvidere three-and-out to begin the third quarter, David hooked up with senior receiver Kyle Pollastrini for a 56-yard TD pass to make it 34-0 with the extra point.
The running clock came into play with 3:10 left in the third quarter on fullback Nate Dyer's 1-yard score on another fourth-and-goal from the 1 scenario.
In addition to limiting Belvidere to 71 yards of net offense, Kaneland's defense notched five takeaways. Supplementing Nauert's monster night, senior linebacker Blake Bradford recovered a first quarter fumble and senior defensive back Tanner Andrews reeled in an acrobatic interception in the fourth quarter.
KANELAND 48, BELVIDERE 0
B 0 0 0 0 – 0
K 14 13 14 7 – 48
HOW THEY SCORED
K – Balluff 41 run (Rodriguez kick), 10:39
K – Balluff 1 run (Rodriguez kick), 8:37
K – David 1 run (Rodriguez kick), 10:43
K – Rodriguez 35 field goal, 3:18
K – Rodriguez 25 field goal, 1:30
K – Pollastrini 56 pass from David (Rodriguez kick), 10:49
K – Dyer 1 run (Rodriguez kick), 3:10
K – Carlson 30 run (Rodriguez kick), 5:12
RUSHING – Belvidere: Jackson 5-0, Vandenbroek 3-9, Fondrk 1-1, Munoz 1-2, Hearn 1-minus 1, Johnson 1-minus 2. Totals: 12-9. Kaneland: Balluff 17-111, David 8-6, Dyer 8-35, Swithers 5-10, T. Carlson 4-33, Pruett 1-3. Totals: 35-198.
PASSING – Belvidere: Vandenbroek 11-25-3-58, Jackson 1-1-0-4, Hyser 0-2-1-0. Totals: 12-28-4-62. Kaneland: David 8-17-1-127.
RECEIVING – Belvidere: Jackson 5-7, I. Carlson 1-5, Steger 1-9, Hearn 2-37, Frazier 1-10, Munoz 1-minus 10, McGady 1-4. Totals: 12-62. Kaneland: Nauert 3-38, Martinelli 4-33, Pollastrini 1-56. Totals: 8-127.
TOTAL OFFENSE – Belvidere 71, Kaneland 325