GENEVA – Blake Stempowski and Mason Pawelko were the defensive equivalents of Geneva offensive standouts Carter Powelson and Jackson Reyes.
In a game much tighter than its double-digit final indicated, Stempowski and Pawelko had back-to-back difference-making plays late in the second quarter for the Vikings.
Powelson – with the Kaneland defense bunched in the box – exploded for a 30-yard touchdown run to cement the Vikings’ 31-20 victory over Kaneland on Friday night in nonconference football action.
Kaneland (1-1) seemingly had all the momentum after quarterback Troyer Carlson found Sam Gagne in stride on a 54-yard TD pass to give the Knights a 14-10 lead.
The Knights soon were back in business, driving to the Vikings’ 14-yard line.
To further complicate the Vikings’ precarious state, Kaneland was slated to receive the second-half kickoff.
But first Stempowski dropped Carlson for the first of his two sacks, and Pawelko enabled Geneva to run out the first half after his interception inside the 5-yard line on the next play.
“It was enormous,” said Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen, who directed Kaneland to back-to-back Class 5A state semifinal dates as the Knights’ quarterback in 2005 and 2006. “Football is a funny game; it takes one play [to change momentum]. We had one of our better players, Mason Pawelko, make a big play.”
“I don’t want to say it was a dagger, but it definitely deflated us,” Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said of the Knights’ subsequent offensive woes.
Powelson powered the Vikings (2-0) for a second straight week as the converted defensive end finished with 189 yards and a pair of scores.
The senior’s first score, a 15-yard screen pass, gave Geneva the lead for good, and Stempowski ensured the Knights went three-and-done on consecutive possessions with third-down tackles for losses.
“The coaches kept calling good blitzes,” said Stempowski, a linebacker. “My defensive backs were doing great. They gave me time to get to the backfield and sack the quarterback.”
Reyes’ second touchdown – after opening the scoring with a first-quarter keeper out of the wildcat – came on a short wide receiver pass from Pawelko.
But the Vikings’ first double-digit lead was sliced to 24-20 when Carlson struck quickly, capping an 88-yard drive with an 11-yard scoring strike to Dom DeBlasio with 3:23 to play.
Geneva, however, had no issues with the ensuing onside kick; Powelson struck pay dirt moments later.
The Gagne scoring reception came after Corey Phillips’ 6-yard rushing TD put Kaneland on the board in the first quarter.
“It was single coverage,” Gagne said. “I was the primary receiver. The play was directed toward me. It worked out.”