Joey Culotta’s two-point grab gives Sycamore win in thriller over Kaneland

Knights lose for third time this year after leading in fourth quarter

Sycamore's Diego Garcia is congratulated by teammate Carter York after scoring a touchdown during their game against Kaneland Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Sycamore High School.

SYCAMORE – After lining up for a potential game-tying extra point in the final minute against Kaneland, Sycamore coach Joe Ryan changed his mind and went for a two-point conversion and the win.

Joey Culotta was the beneficiary of the call, catching a pass from quarterback Burke Gautcher to give the Spartans the lead in a 22-21 win against the Knights on Friday.

“I’m still shaking,” Culotta said. “They are our rivals, first and foremost. DeKalb, too, but as long as I know they’ve been our rivals, and they put up a [heck] of a fight.”

Kaneland (3-3, 2-2 Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 White) led 21-14 in the fourth, scoring 14 straight points after trailing at halftime. The defense led the effort, holding the Spartans (6-0, 3-0) to three-and-outs on their first two drives of the second half.

But after a 39-yard pass from Troyer Carlson to Aric Johnson put the Knights ahead for the first time with 7:05 left in the game, Sycamore rattled off a 19-play, 80-yard drive, converting three third downs and a fourth.

Sycamore's Burke Gautcher tries to pull away from Kaneland's Josh Mauthe during their game Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Sycamore High School.

Gautcher – who left the game briefly in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury – found Carter York for 11 yards on third-and-10. On the next play, Diego Garcia plowed in from 5 yards out with 59 seconds left.

Sycamore had 6 yards of offense in the second half before the drive. Ryan called it the team’s worst third quarter in years.

“I’m still shaking. They are our rivals, first and foremost. DeKalb, too, but as long as I know they’ve been our rivals and they pulled up a hell of a fight.”

—  Joey Culotta, Sycamore football player

“Out of nowhere. No one saw it coming. I don’t think anyone on our sidelines saw it coming,” Ryan said. “Nothing was going right for us in the second half, all of a sudden, one magical drive to score.”

Ryan said he saw the Kaneland cornerback in tight to prevent the run, so he called a play-action pass to Culotta.

“We lined up, and I had second thoughts, let’s go for two,” Ryan said. “So, we try to get them to jump offsides, which a lot of people do. So I wasn’t surprised they didn’t jump, but it allowed me to see what their coverage was, and their corner was tucked inside. So I felt like we could sneak our tight end out. Great throw, great catch.”

Down 14-7 at the break, Kaneland started with the ball but was forced to punt. Tyler Curtis fumbled the punt, and Josh Mauthe scored from 17 yards out on the first play to tie the score.

The Knights then recovered an onside kick and ran eight plays but had to punt the ball back.

“In the middle it was kind of wishy-washy,” Culotta said. “But in the end we pulled it out. We really pulled through.”

Kaneland has led in the fourth quarter of all three of its losses this year. The three teams the Knights lost to were a combined 14-1 entering Friday.

“We’ve lost to incredibly good teams this year that are doing incredibly well,” Kaneland coach Michael Thorgesen said. “We’re just a score or a series or a play away from beating those teams. But it is what it is. We didn’t, and we just have to regroup.”

Thorgesen said his team played its heart out.

“It hurts more with it being as close as it is, but I’m not trading it for getting beat bad,” Thorgesen said. “We’re right there. We have to keep it in perspective. We are really, really close to playing with some of the elite schools in the state right now.”

Kaneland's Troyer Carlson throws a pass during their game Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Sycamore High School.

Carlson threw for 159 yards, a touchdown and an interception – coming by Gautcher on the last drive to seal the Sycamore win. Johnson had eight catches for 102 yards and a score. Gautcher threw for 129 yards, while Garcia ran for a team-best 69 yards and two touchdowns.

Each team scored on its first drive, then reached the red zone but failed to score on their second drive.

Sycamore started the scoring with a 5-yard run by Curtis, capping a 4:36 drive. Two plays before the score, Gautcher ran for 21 hards, negating a first-and-17 after a holding call.

Kaneland answered when Carlson plunged in from a yard out. Earlier in the drive, the Knights were facing a fourth-and-11, then a fourth-and-16 after a false start, then a fourth-and-11 after an offsides. Carlson found Evan Friders in the middle of the field for 24 yards and the first down, setting up the score three plays later for a 7-7 tie.

Sycamore got down to the 14, but Gautcher fumbled. Kaneland then rolled off 14 plays from the Sycamore 10 to the red zone. But on third-and-11 from the 13, Carlson slipped and fell, then Samuel Bruno missed a 37-yard field goal.

The Spartans got one quick scoring drive to close the first half. On third-and-3, Gautcher found Teague Hallahan. The 6-foot-5 Hallahan reached over the 5-11 Brandon Parrilli, then dragged him about 10 extra yards for a 58-yard gain. Four plays later, Garcia plunged in from 5 yards out for the 14-7 lead.