Last-minute heroics lead to win over Morris, 3rd-straight conference crown
by Mike Slodki
Kaneland—It was anyone’s ballgame to win.
By virtue of heightened play on their last drive, coupled with a bit of luck, it turned out to be Kaneland’s ballgame.
Echoing the dramatic narrative histrionics of a year ago in Grundy County, it came down to the Knights’ final possession against Morris on Friday, with Drew David throwing a five-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Zach Martinelli with :27 left for a 33-30 win.
“We’ve run that route numerous times all year, and Drew put that ball on the money,” Martinelli said. “It couldn’t have been any better. I saw it coming and I was smiling.”
The win cemented Kaneland’s third straight undefeated regular season. Kaneland’s program has now won 28 regular season games in a row. Counting the postseason, KHS is 34-3 in its last 37 contests.
The Knights also finish the regular season as Northern Illinois Big XII East division champions and have never lost a conference game.
Kaneland outgained the visiting Redskins by a count of 408-280 and advanced 200 yards on the ground in the win.
Jesse Balluff provided immense support for the Knights with a 140-yard rushing effort with a touchdown, and even took some snaps out of the Wildcat formation to relieve David, who is still recovering from a nagging hand injury.
Morris quarterback Zach Cinnamon had a team-high 81 yards rushing.
His counterpart, David, was 13-for-21 for 208 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
“I didn’t play last Friday, and I felt a little out of the game rhythm, but once we got back on the field for the first play I was good to go,” David said.
Martinelli was the top receiver with six catches for 124 yards.
KHS struck first in the opening frame, thanks to a third-down pass under pressure to Martinelli for a 59-yard touchdown with :10 left in the first for a 7-0 lead.
A kickoff return for a touchdown by Morris was called back because of a penalty, negating Morris’ chance to answer.
Morris’ first score came on a Cinnamon touchdown run from the 15-yard line with 4:21 remaining in the half.
KHS seemed to be moving toward another score, but a tipped pass was picked off by Josh Lincoln at the 5-yard line and returned all the way back to the 16-yard line of KHS. With time for one play, Fernando DelToro’s 33-yard field goal try ended the half with the Redskins taking a 10-7 lead.
Third-quarter scoring got underway with Balluff galloping over a tackler and going for a 53-yard touchdown with 8:38 remaining for a 14-10 lead in the third quarter.
The following drive went eight plays, featuring Balluff runs and a pass to Kyle Pollastrini. However, the drive stalled, allowing Matt Rodriguez to boot a 41-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead with 3:10 remaining.
Morris took five plays to find the end zone as Anthonee Monson scored on a 16-yard TD pass with :56 left in the frame to tie the score.
The fourth quarter began with six Balluff runs and a 39-yard field goal for a 20-17 lead with 9:52 remaining in regulation.
Morris used an Austin Hogan kickoff return to set up shop at the KHS 31. Reese Sobol scored on a 20-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the drive for a 24-20 Morris lead with 8:01 remaining.
Kaneland made good on the next drive: an eight-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Dylan Nauert catching a touchdown pass from the 14 out of trips formation for a 27-24 edge with 4:10 remaining.
The two squads traded punts with Morris scoring next, thanks to a 49-yard scamper by Cinnamon with 1:58 remaining. The extra-point try was no good, but Morris still led 30-27.
After two incomplete passes, David rushed for 15, 33 and two yards to put the Knights in solid Redskins territory.
A pass to Pollastrini was good for 19 yards, which set up the final successful play.
Morris had a chance to drive 69 yards in 21 seconds, but Cinnamon was sacked on the final play.
“We go every week saying it’s going to be a four-quarter game,” KHS coach Tom Fedderly. “We’ve got to play every single second of the game until the last play is done, and we had to do it tonight.”
Kaneland, as the No. 1 seed on its side of the bracket, will host No. 16 Belvidere at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. Kaneland held on against the Bucs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs for a 51-45 barnburner.
IHSA Class 5A Playoff Notes
No. 1 Kaneland will host Belvidere High School in the first round of the Class 5A State Series.
Belvidere comes to Kaneland with a 5-4 overall record, and averages a 12.2 scoring deficit for the year.
Meanwhile, Kaneland enters the playoffs with a perfect 9-0 record, outscoring its opponents by an average 28.1 points per game.