MORRIS – So, Kaneland football players, how do you suppose you’ll rebound from the end of the program’s 35-game regular-season winning streak?
Gain 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage, score four plays later, sprinkle in some early inconsistency but ultimately handle Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival Morris?
Kaneland closed the regular season with a 49-14 victory against the Redskins on Friday, improving to 8-1 and 4-1 in the conference as it awaits tonight’s playoff pairings.
The Knights insist last week’s 31-21 loss at Sycamore – a result that helped the Spartans to the NI Big 12 East title and likely paved the way for a top seed in 5A – is out of their memory banks. Quarterback Drew David’s long read-option keeper to open the Morris game provided the first bit of proof.
“A night like tonight going into the playoffs, I feel very good about it,” Knights senior wide receiver/linebacker Dylan Nauert said. “The focus is where it needs to be, the players are where we need to be, and we’re ready for it. I’m glad this is the way we’re going into the playoffs.”
Morris (3-6, 1-4) answered Kaneland’s opening drive touchdown after a Knights punt on their second possession. Redskins junior running back Jake Walker raced 84 yards for a touchdown, and the ensuing extra point tied the score at 7-all.
It was about the hosts’ only romp until the postgame sock hop in the Morris gym. Take away Walker’s run, and the Redskins gained 41 yards on 21 plays in the first half. Kaneland led, 42-7, at halftime, a stark contrast to last season’s down-to-the wire affair against Morris at Peterson Field.
The Redskins graduated 21 starters from last season’s Class 5A state runner-up.
“Their record didn’t show how well they had been playing down the stretch,” David said. “I mean, they beat Rochelle, so we knew it was going to be kind of a battle, and we had to come out and take it to them right away.”
Playing behind an offensive line in late-season flux – starting center Zach Thielk’s ACL injury shifted Alex Snyder from right guard to center in Week 7 and put Sam Bower in for Snyder – Kaneland looked sharp up front for much of the night.
“This week, I really started feeling confident,” Snyder said. “I looked at the tape last week, really wasn’t happy with how I played, but had a better week of practice this week with a lot of help from the coaches and everyone around me.”
Snyder’s mindset seemed to be contagious. David fired four first-half touchdown passes, including scores of 15 and 41 yards to Nauert in the last 1:46 of the first quarter. David connected with six different receivers before halftime, with the longest gain a 44-yard, one-handed catch and run by junior Connor Fedderly that set up a 6-yard Isaac Swithers scoring run.
Swithers triggered the running clock just after halftime, as the backup to injured senior Jesse Balluff (torn ACL) scored on a 24-yard run one play after Morris fumbled the first play of the third quarter.
Players were unsure of how many of them might convene for the IHSA playoff pairings show tonight. There was no formal gathering last season, but Nauert hopes to change that this season and get a group to Buffalo Wild Wings.
“We’ll see what the pairings are and get some wings,” Nauert said.
That sounds about as comfortable as Kaneland’s win Friday. For the Knights, it was a good place to return after last week.
KANELAND 49, MORRIS 14
Kaneland 22 20 7 0 – 49 Morris 7 0 0 7 – 14
HOW THEY SCORED
FIRST QUARTER K – Swithers 12 pass from David (Rodriguez kick), 9:41 M – Walker 84 run (Reed kick), 8:03 K – Nauert 15 pass from David (Rodriguez kick), 1:46) K – Nauert 41 pass from David (David pass), 0:01SECOND QUARTER K – Dyer 18 run (Rodriguez kick), 8:43 K – Swithers 6 run (Rodriguez kick), 4:47 K – Bishop 5 pass from David (kick failed), 4:47THIRD QUARTER K – Swithers 24 run (Rodriguez kick), 11:44FOURTH QUARTER M – D. Meucci 34 run (Darlington kick), 1:34
RUSHING – Kaneland: Swithers 12-101, David 3-58, Dyer 1-18, Aurelio 5-(-2), Korpela 4-(-8). Totals: 25-167. Morris: Walker 10-97, D. Meucci 5-35, Layne 1-3, R. Meucci 1-0, Feldon 1-0, West 2-(-2), Sobol 4-(-14). Totals: 24-119.PASSING – Kaneland: David 12-24-204-4-1. Morris: Sobol 5-12-33-0-2. Darlington 0-2-0-0-0.RECEIVING – Kaneland: Nauert 4-71, Swithers 3-50, Fedderly 1-44, Pruett 2-24, Dyer 1-11, Bishop 1-5. Morris: Shannon 2-12, Hill 1-9, Feldon 1-7, Albert 1-5. Total offense: Kaneland 371, Morris 152.