Photo: Jacob Razo (8) and Ryan Lawrence (29) bring down a St. Francis runner in the second quarter. Kaneland came away with a 31-28 victory on Saturday. Photo by John DiDonna
Late TD waved off, 11-0 Knights beat St. Francis, 31-28
by Mike Slodki
KANELAND—There exists a song by Ringo Starr entitled “It Don’t Come Easy.”
While Starr was part of a group that forever changed the face of music, the Liverpool lad never laced up the cleats the last three weeks.
For the third week in a row, the Knights saw a double-digit lead shrink. Once again, the fate of the game came down to the final drive, this time against St. Francis of Wheaton.
Falling behind 7-0 early, Kaneland put up 31 unanswered points by the end of the second quarter.
St. Francis got two long touchdown runs in the third quarter and a touchdown pass in the fourth to cut it to 31-28.
St. Francis’ Jeff Rutkowski caught a 40-yard touchdown pass with no time left sending the Spartan faithful into a frenzy, but a flag for illegal participation was thrown, negating the touchdown.
With one untimed down left to be played from midfield, Rutkowski caught the ball again, but was tackled at the five-yard line.
“Unbelievable, what a great comeback by them,” KHS coach Tom Fedderly said. “A lot of credit to them. That was a great team we played, and we’re just happy to move on.”
Now, Kaneland makes it to the State quarterfinals in Class 5A for the second consecutive year, and has to travel to Rochelle for a Northern Illinois Big XII conference rematch.
KHS got the best of Rochelle 35-14 on Oct. 2.
Kaneland (11-0) won despite having been beaten in the total yards category, 507-441. St. Francis (8-3) also had a seven minute, 44 second edge in time of possession.
Knight quarterback Drew David was 21-for-40 for 353 yards, with four touchdown throws and two interceptions.
Spartan counterpart Nick Donati was 8-for-16 for 126 yards with 1 TD and two picks, but rattled off scoring runs of 51 and 70 yards in the third quarter.
Jesse Balluff of KHS had 92 yards on 14 carries, but also had 177 yards on eight catches for two touchdowns.
“Jesse is a big-time player for us. He just loves football, and has been getting better for us all season long,” Fedderly said.
Spartan Jack Petrando had his way on the ground, rushing for 155 yards on 17 carries for a score, and Donati amassed 115 yards on the ground.
James Ferguson of St. Francis had 73 yards receiving and a scoring grab.
Just 67 seconds elapsed in the game when Petrando took the ball on the third play from scrimmage and ran 46 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead.
KHS came back and executed a 10-play, 40-yard drive that ended on a 42-yard kick by Matt Rodriguez, making it 7-3 with 5:49 to go in the first.
The Spartans’ next drive ended on a field goal miss from 33 yards away, and the Knights capitalized two plays later when Balluff caught a ball near the sidelines over defenders and raced 77 yards for the touchdown and a 10-7 lead 17 ticks into the second quarter.
Kaneland then went on an absolute roll, scoring on its next three drives, as well.
After Jacob Razo recovered a fumble, Quinn Buschbacher caught a 15-yard scoring pass with 3:37 remaining to go up 17-7.
Balluff caught a 39-yard touchdown pass with 1:30 left that unfolded after the work of KHS blockers on a screen, and the Knights were ahead 24-7.
After a Razo interception, the Knights converted with a 5-yard scoring strike to Buschbacher with :24 remaining, making the lead 31-7 by halftime.
The second half ended up rougher for KHS, ending drives on interceptions, a punt and a missed field goal.
Donati’s 51-yard score came with 8:17 to go in the third, and his 70-yarder came with 4:46 to go, making it 31-21 by the end of the third.
St. Francis closed to within 31-28 on an 11-yard pass to Ferguson with 7:48 to go.
Later, Rodriguez’ 38-yard field goal try was no good with 3:32 to go, setting in motion the final sequence of the game.
The Knights’ second meeting of the year with the rival Hubs takes place on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 1 p.m. in Ogle County. No. 13 Rochelle has gotten past Chicago’s Urban Prep Charter, 43-41, and Sycamore 21-16.
The winner of the game faces either Montini Catholic or Marian Central Catholic in the State semifinal game next week.
The key call
When an offensive player goes out of bounds (unless blocked out), returns during the play
and is the first one to touch the ball. football.refs.org
Seems like old times
• Kaneland has captured the last four meetings against the Hubs, last losing in 2007.
• KHS and Rochelle have met in the playoffs twice in recent years, with Rochelle winning 27-7 in 2004, and 42-7 in 2003.
• Sean Carter and Quinn Buschbacher had two TD’s each in the Sept. 23 victory.