Photo: Receiver Sean Carter hauls in a pass during Saturday night’s Class 5A
playoff semifinal battle with defending champion Montini. Photo by John DiDonna
by Mike Slodki
KANELAND—Sequels can be more entertaining and gripping than the original, but for Kaneland football and its fans, the ending to this particular drama was still hard to take.
Jordan Westerkamp’s touchdown catch with 2 minutes, three seconds remaining in the game was the final blow in a 35-31 loss to Montini Catholic on Saturday night, ending the Knights’ quest for Class 5A State glory at 12-1.
Kaneland held the lead for nearly 25 minutes going from the second quarter to late in the fourth, but as it stood, Montini tries for its third straight title against the Hilltoppers of Joliet Catholic on Saturday, Nov. 26, at the University of Illinois.
Kaneland still has won 24 of 26 contests, and hasn’t lost in the regular season since Week eight of 2009.
Montini outgained Kaneland by a 407-366 yard margin, but it was more of the toe-to-toe fight Knight faithful were looking for after last year’s 27-14 setback in the semifinal to the Broncos.
“Our kids played their hearts out,” KHS coach Tom Fedderly said. “I’m so proud of our team, they came out and didn’t back down.”
Montini’s John Rhode was 20-for-35 for 230 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Counterpart Drew David was 16-for-31 for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Bronco Joseph Borsellino was the leading receiver with 123 yards on nine catches. Knight Jesse Balluff was the leading target out of the backfield with 69 yards. Balluff added a prolific 143 yards rushing, a game high. Bronco Dimitri Taylor had 111 of his own.
Montini got on the board first with a one-yard run out of the wildcat formation from Borsellino with 1:13 left in the opening frame for a 7-0 lead. Balluff tied matters soon after with an 81-yard scoring scamper down the sideline just 23 ticks later, and Taylor came back 36 seconds after that with a 48-yard TD run for a 14-7 deficit.
The second quarter belonged to KHS, thanks to a Balluff TD run from 18 yards away with 7:51 to go and a tie-breaking 26-yard field goal from Matt Rodriguez with 3:14 left, and the Knights went into the locker room up 17-14.
In the second half, things improved for KHS when Zach Martinelli made an acrobatic touchdown catch from 18 yards away, giving Kaneland a 24-14 lead with 9:01 to go in the third. Borsellino scored again from two yards out with 5:53 to go to close within 24-21. David’s four-yard plunge with 1:38 to go in the third marked the last Knight score of the season, and a 31-21 lead.
Zach Martinelli has made his share of integral catches. It was time for No. 11 to make an exceptional catch. Shifting his body to get the edge on Bronco defenders, Martinelli grabbed the ball in mid air and fell to the end zone with 9:01 to go in the third quarter, giving the Knights a 24-14 lead
With 12 minutes to go before the Knights conceivably could start their Champaign journey, the Broncos’ Taylor completed the ensuing drive after David’s TD with a 31-yard scoring run just 30 seconds into the quarter, making it 31-28.
In crunch-time, Montini’s drive stalled at the Knight 46, leading to a punt. The Knights, however, went three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Broncos. Montini went 52 yards, ending with Westerkamp’s 19-yard paydirt play.
KHS then stalled at its own 47, on an incompletion to Sean Carter.
“We wanted to be close and have it come down to the fourth quarter, and it didn’t happen tonight,” Fedderly said.
The Knights, who still had a season to remember, have now lost their last three State semifinal games. Their 2006 nemesis, Marian Central Catholic of Woodstock, lost in this year’s quarterfinal to Montini.