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Kunickis, defense keep Lemont undefeated

At 8-0, playoff seed at stake next week

LEMONT – Lemont senior Albert Kunickis is not without confidence.

Better yet, Lemont coach Bret Kooi, who describes himself “as meticulous about ball control as anybody,” has the utmost confidence in Kunickis.

That’s been the case since Kunickis was a freshman, and in his senior season, it’s obvious his teammates are there with him as well.

Kunickis was the center of the Lemont offense in its 42-7 romp over T.F. South on Friday night, a game that was billed as the battle for the South Suburban Blue title. It turned out to be more of a cakewalk, Lemont scoring on two of its first three possessions while the ravenous defense forced four turnovers and a safety, the latter to open the second half.

Lemont advanced to 8-0, 5-0, while the Rebels fell to 6-2, 4-1 in losing to Lemont for the eighth straight time.

Kunickis, lanky at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, ran for two touchdowns, piled up 125 yards on 18 carries, and kicked a pair of field goals. You would never guess from the way the ball is glued to him as he runs that he was born with only half of his right arm. It ends at the elbow.

With his heart, it doesn’t matter. He’s Kooi’s No. 1 back.

“Tonight was good for the team, because we’re battling for the conference championship,” Kunickis said, deflecting a question about his play. “We needed to beat them by a bunch to gain respect from everyone else.”

Kunickis said Kooi saw in Lemont’s youth camps “the way I was driven. As the years progressed, I worked harder on ball security, catching stuff like that, so I wouldn’t make mistakes. He’s gained confidence in me.”

“He’s pretty good,” Kooi said. “His secret is he’s a driven kid. He’s that type of kid who said I’m not going to let my disability hold me back. That’s driven him, no doubt. He carries himself with that drive all the time.”

Kooi recalled that when Kunickis was a freshman, “I saw the drive and a guy playing with a little bit of an edge.”

Others have taken notice of the senior’s success. He’s made an official visit to Notre Dame, expects to make one to Northwestern, and Monday received a preferred walk-on offer from Michigan. That would mean no scholarship money the first year, but the attention is more than ceremonial. Kunickis can play.

“It feels good,” Kunickis said. “I hope I can attract more attention and we can win a state championship.”

“There’s no doubt he can play somewhere,” Kooi said. “Like us here, somebody’s got to give him a chance.”

It was all Lemont from the start. Their defensive line hammered away at the Rebels, holding them to minus-11 yards rushing in the first half, and setting the table for three T.F. South turnovers. There was another in the second half, plus the aforementioned safety, and a muffed punt at the Rebels 14 that set up the final Lemont score.

“We got after it pretty good, got a couple breaks at the beginning and definitely took advantage of it,” Kooi said. “Minus-11 yards, that’s awesome, especially with a back like (Willie Roberts). We thought they were a pretty good team.”

The yardage advantage of 218-20 at the half was indicative of the run of play. The Rebels’ sophomore team arrived late, and the varsity hardly at all.

The first turnover, a fumble by Roberts, was converted into a short-field touchdown by Kunickis on a 1-yard plunge for a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. Lemont quarterback Payton Salomon scored the first Lemont touchdown from the 8 a few minutes before.

Salomon made it 20-0 midway through the second quarter, after which Kunickis kicked field goals of 23 and 42 yards. That might be his ticket to Division I. He can kick as well as he can run.

For Lemont, the only question now is if it can finish undefeated in the regular season at Oak Forest next Friday, and what its playoff seed will be.