Class 5A state championship: Fenwick routs Kankakee for program’s first state title

DeKALB – Fenwick’s ultimate destiny can be loosely traced back to last season’s decision to name their player group text chat.

“State champs, 2021”.

Fenwick, in its first-ever bid for a state football championship, realized that dream Saturday.

“I’m still in shock because since freshman year – every summer, all the days working out – this is the dream our team had,” Fenwick senior defensive lineman Suleiman Abuaqel said following Fenwick’s 34-15 victory over Kankakee in the Class 5A state title game. “We were always talking about it.”

Friars senior linebacker Conor Paris had two sacks and an interception to capstone a dominating defensive effort, while quarterback Kaden Cobb piloted a masterful performance to preserve Fenwick’s spot in history.

“We’ve been dreaming about this and we put in all the hard work that we needed to put in,” Abuaqel, who finished with six tackles and two sacks for the Friars defense, which limited the Kays to minus-1 rushing yards in the half.

“It’s the first state championship in Fenwick history. It’s hard to grasp, but it just makes me and the rest of the team so happy that all of our hard work paid off.”

The Friars (12-2) took a 28-7 advantage into the half, in large part thanks to a combined 173-yard rushing effort and 300 yards of total offense.

Fenwick finished with 24 first downs, out-rushed the Kays 310-38 and had 456 yards of total offense.

Defensively, the Friars forced seven sacks and didn’t give up a first down until under five minutes left in the first half, which eventually led to the Kays’ first half-ending score.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be the head coach of this team,” Friars second-year coach Matt Battaglia said. “Honestly, as great as this feels, for me, it’s bittersweet because I don’t know what I’m going to do next week. ... The only thing that I can think of that would’ve made this feel better is we get a lot of time designing a nice looking ring right now with a big ole’ shield on it.”

Cobb, a Ball State recruit, had a 21-yard touchdown to senior wideout Bryan Hunt to kickstart 28 unanswered points until Kays quarterback Tomele Staples found Karson King for an 11-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left in the half to end the potential shutout.

Cobb finished 11 for 18 for 146 yards and three touchdowns.

Cobb hit Max Reese (3 catches, 91 yards) for a pair of touchdown passes of 22 and 67 yards for the 21-0 Friars lead. Friars senior running back Danny Kent (31 carries, 208 yards) later added a 1-yard score with 5:36 in the second quarter.

The Kays rolled out in their opening second half possession for an eventual 1-yard score from Nate Hill, and the two-point conversion made it 28-15 Fenwick with 7:45 left in the third quarter. Cobb rebounded for a 1-yard rushing score on fourth-and-1 to push Fenwick’s lead back to 34-15.

“I’m just really proud of our kids and what we accomplished this year,” Kays coach Derek Hart said. This obviously wasn’t how we wanted it to end, but at the end of the day, what these guys did this year was something no Kankakee football team has ever done. So, I’m just really proud of these guys.”

Staples, the Kays senior, finished with 17 for 37 with 178 passing yards, 28 rushing yards and one touchdown. King had six receptions for 81 yards, while Caron Johnson led the defense with a team-high nine tackles.

“Coming out and making history with the whole city behind us [meant a lot],” Staples said. “Just the way we play together, we fought our way through the playoffs, made it to the state championships – first team in Kankakee history. This team, [it] gave me hope.”