New year, new setting. Same situation. Kaneland and Sycamore have been in this position before, both football teams unbeaten before facing each other in an unofficial Northern Illinois Big 12 East title game.
Flash back to Week 8 of the 2010 season. The Knights and Spartans had started their first year in the NI Big 12 East unbeaten through seven weeks before meeting for a showdown in Maple Park.
The contest ended the same way every regular-season game has ended for Kaneland since the NI Big 12 was created, as the Knights claimed a 30-13 win.
Kaneland’s Taylor Andrews made the biggest play of the game, returning a fumble 86 yards for a touchdown to put the Knights up by two scores. Kaneland clinched its first of three consecutive outright conference titles that night, and can clinch a share of another with a win tonight.
“We turned the ball over. You can’t do that in a game of this caliber,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said of the 2010 game. “Good teams are going to score when you turn the ball over and that’s what we did.”
Unfortunately for Sycamore, turnovers have been a theme in recent contests against Kaneland. In the Knights’ 35-21 win in 2011, Kaneland turned two second-half Sycamore fumbles into touchdowns.
“It was our senior night. We wanted to go out and win. We were playing great, both sides of the ball making plays,” said former Sycamore quarterback Ryan Bartels, who now is at North Dakota. “Came down to a couple of fumbles that allowed them to take the game to us. That still hurts to this day.”
Big games between Kaneland and Sycamore are nothing new. In 2009, the Spartans defeated the Knights, 40-13, in the first round of the IHSA Class 5A playoffs.
Both schools were members of the Western Sun Conference from 2006 to 2009, and were part of the Suburban Prairie Conference before that. Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said the rivalry between the schools, which are about 15 miles apart, has been ramped up even more since the NI Big 12 was formed.
“They’ve had a really good run of talent, and so have we,” Fedderly said. “... Joe and his staff do a great job with them, and it’s always a really competitive game. It’s something we really enjoy being part of.”
However, Ryan said that for the matchup to become a real rivalry, his team needs to start getting some victories.
“I think it’s always been a rivalry just because of the close proximity of the towns. They’ve certainly had the advantage in that rivalry, if you want to call it that,” he said. “For it to be a true rivalry, you have to win on the other end. They’ve had an outstanding program. Tom does a good job. We haven’t lost to bad teams. They’ve been outstanding, as well.”
Sycamore is adding more bleachers to Engh Community Field with the expectation of a big crowd tonight. Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick said he hopes there will be 5,000 to 6,000 fans in attendance. Fedderly remembers a rocking Peterson Field three years ago. Expect the same atmosphere in Sycamore.
“[The crowd] was great,” Fedderly said of the 2010 game. “The last three years it’s come down to either us and Sycamore or us and Morris [for the NI Big 12 East title], and everywhere we’ve gone, there’s a lot of fans, and the atmosphere has been great.”
• Jay Schwab contributed to this report