MAPLE PARK – Despite its success, Kaneland has been searching for a second-half response all season.
The Knights finally got one during the final week of the regular season and used it to pull away from La Salle-Peru 28-7 during Senior Night on Oct. 21 in Maple Park.
“One of the things we’ve talked about as a football team is being better coming out of the half, and it’s been something we haven’t done a good job of all season,” Knights coach Pat Ryan said. “So we got on them a little bit at halftime and told them we need to do better and come out and our kids responded great.”
Kaneland (6-3, 4-2 Interstate 8) led 7-0 at halftime on a 60-yard touchdown run by Ty Bradshaw with 6:51 remaining in the second quarter.
“Ty’s a good back, a bit of a bruiser, and then when he gets out in the open, he can break tackles and he’s surprisingly fast,” Ryan said. “That was a great run, and we’ve got three really good running backs that can share the load there. When they’re all healthy and good, we have a pretty good run game.”
Christopher Ruchaj provided statistical data to support Ryan’s assessment about the Knights’ rushing game. Ruchaj finished off a drive to open the third quarter with a 26-yard scoring run.
“We put together an excellent drive and scored and then had an excellent defensive stop and came right back and scored,” Ryan said. “So that third quarter was like the missing piece for us all season, and tonight we came out firing and did a really good job.”
La Salle-Peru (5-4, 3-3) could not get anything going offensively a week after being blanked by Sycamore.
“It was a rough night,” Cavaliers coach Jose Medina said. “We couldn’t move the ball. The defense played great. They’ve been playing great all year. We’re trying to figure some things out. It’s tough when you’re trying to get different guys in and trying to do different jobs. But ultimately it comes down to playing those four quarters, and we didn’t do that this week.”
The Cavaliers trailed only 14-0 early in the second half, but failed to convert a fourth-and-2 on the Kaneland 39-yard line after the Knights had taken the two-score lead.
Knights defensive lineman Josh Mauthe said his teammates were simply doing what they were assigned to do.
“Everyone was doing their jobs,” Mauthe said. “I think we worked really hard on keeping them uncomfortable by stopping their known plays. When that happens, I feel like you get in their head a little bit, and it’s easier to keep going and lay it on.”
Kaneland quarterback Troyer Carlson switched from handing the ball off for scores to airing it out to Aric Johnson for two touchdowns in the second half to help the Knights break the game open.
The two connected on a short pass that Johnson turned into a 49-yard score to make it 21-0 with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
“It was a hitch, and once I got the ball, I knew that [their] safety was going to come down flying so I had to make a move,” Johnson said. “I got a good block from my receiver Johnny [Spallasso] and I just took it up the edge as fast as I could.”
Carlson and Johnson then connected on a 35-yard TD strike with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter to make it 28-0.
“It’s been a big focus for us this season to come out in the second half fired up so we can get on them early and get those points on the board for us,” Johnson said. “It’s exactly what we did and it gives us good momentum leading into the playoffs now.”
The Cavaliers got on the scoreboard with 2:13 left in the game on senior Mason Lynch’s 8-yard run. Lynch threw a 36-yard pass to starting quarterback Brendan Boudreau, who made an amazing catch, to help set up the score.
“Whether it’s the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the state, we’re fighting every week and that’s what we’ve been doing all year,” Medina said. “Those seniors continue to battle. They’re a good group of young men. It [stinks] that we lost today, but we got at least one more week and not many seniors have another week left. At least they’ve got one more week to go out there and compete.”