Passing game powers Kaneland into first-round clash with Fenwick

Prep football: Kaneland vs. Fenwick at Triton College, 7 p.m. Friday

Kaneland's Aric Johnson gets past Sycamore's William Stewart on his way to a touchdown during their game Friday, Sep. 10, 2021 at Sycamore High School.

MAPLE PARK – The Kaneland receivers have the ability to stretch the field and create matchup nightmares for opponents. Their success, they say, has a lot to do with sophomore quarterback Troyer Carlson.

“I think it’s just Troyer, man,” sophomore Dom DeBlasio said. “He can sling the rock to all of us. He can move defenses and that’s how we win.”

Carlson has thrown for 2,642 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions this year, completing 67.1% of his passes to help the Knights qualify for the postseason for the fifth straight year. No. 15 Kaneland (5-4) will have its hands full with No. 2 Fenwick (7-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Triton College.

While the defense has struggled this year, particularly against the run, the Knights can put up points in droves. They scored 336 points this year, second in the Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 (White) behind only undefeated Morris’ 362.

“We get to get some good numbers on the board,” senior Sam Gagne said. “We have a good offensive line that can pass protect real well to give us receivers some time on the outside.”

Gagne has been the top target for Carlson this year with 1,076 yards on 56 catches with 15 scores. Aric Johnson (35-682-9) and DeBlasio (40-498-5) have numbers that would make them the leading receiver on most teams.

And Johnny Spallasso didn’t move over full time to offense until later in the season, and he’s got 254 yards on just nine catches, four of them touchdowns.

Of the group, only Gagne is a senior. The other three receivers and Carlson are all sophomores.

“I think it’s just the chemistry with all of us,” Johnson said. “Me, Dominic, Troyer, we’ve all been playing together since the sixth grade. We keep getting better, getting closer.”

Carlson took over the starter role last season as a freshman and had an impact for the Knights. But he said he knew he had to improve.

“I wasn’t happy with how I played,” Carlson said. “I knew I had to get better. This year I’m happy where I am right now. I just need to get better every year, every week, every day.”

Now the Knights will look to continue their offensive success against a Fenwick team that hasn’t given up more than 28 points this year, losing two games by a total of four points and fresh off handing St. Ignatius its first loss of the year, 28-20.

Kaneland has scored at least 20 in every game this year and has gone over 35 five times, and has posted 50 or more in its last two games, including a 55-13 win in the regular-season finale against LaSalle-Peru. That was more than a third of all the points the Cavaliers have given up this year total.

“It’s awesome showing all of our work pay off on the field,” Carlson said. “This week, if we get this win, we’ll finally get appreciated and show how good we are.”

Gagne said the Friars are probably the best competition the Knights have seen this year, and the team is looking forward to the challenge.

“I like that we’re called the underdogs right now,” Gagne said. “It really gets me pumped up. I know my guys are ready for it, too. (I’m) really looking forward to it.”

The Friars are loaded with athletes who have committed to Division I schools, but Johnson said the Knights are still optimistic.

“They’re still high school kids,” Johnson said. “There’s not much they can do that we can’t do the same. We just have to go out there and perform, and let all the talking go behind us and just play our game.”