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Between the huge crowds and all the coaches and players, you could count on one hand the number of people at Kaneland's Peterson Field Friday night who weren't losing their minds as two 8-0 teams fought down to the final seconds with the game and Northern Illinois Big 12 East title on the line.
Luckily for the Knights, the calmest person in that entire frenzied scene wears No. 4 and plays quarterback.
Drew David marched Kaneland 67 yards in 6 plays and one minute, 20 seconds, firing the game-winning touchdown pass with 27 seconds remaining for a 33-30 victory over Morris in a classic battle of unbeatens and the No. 2 ranked teams in Illinois in Class 6A and 5A, respectively.
Kaneland (9-0, 5-0) completed its third straight perfect regular season and is now 15-0 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East. The Knights will take a 28-game regular season winning streak into their 2013 season opener.
If Morris (8-1, 4-1) thought losing 31-28 to the Knights last year in the finale was bitter, Kaneland broke their hearts in even more dramatic fashion Friday, escaping a 2nd-and-25 on that last drive.
"We played these guys last year for the same stakes and that Montini game (in the semifinals) was tight and all our guys know we have to stay calm and the game is not over until it's over," David said. "We knew we still had a chance."
Zach Martinelli hauled in David's bullet in the left corner of the end zone, capping a back-and-forth game with six lead changes. Four of those lead changes came in the fourth quarter, three in the final 4:10.
"It was a physical game, both teams were going at it, I've never been so happy," Martinelli said. "I give so much credit to Drew on the throw. I saw it coming and thought, 'This is the game right here.'"
After Morris quarterback Zach Cinnamon broke free on a 48-yard touchdown run to put the Redskins ahead 30-27, the Knights took over at their own 33 with 1:47 and two timeouts left.
David was called for intentional grounding on first down. With the Knights facing 2nd-and-25, Morris was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on an incomplete pass. David ran for 9 yards, and Kaneland was in a 3rd-and-2 when David ran a quarterback trap for 32 yards to move deep into Morris territory.
David fired a 20-yard completion to Kyle Pollastrini. The Knights called their final timeout with 33 seconds remaining at the Morris 4.
Matt Rodriguez had already drilled clutch 38- and 41-yard field goals and was well in position to hit the game-tying chip shot to force overtime, but David found Martinelli on a stop pattern with two defenders closing in.
"How Drew got that ball in I don't know," Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said. "He's cool and he's calm and he's collected and if something goes bad he just forgets about it. When we get in that situation we just want to move the chains."
After sitting out last week, David returned with a 13-of-21 performance for 205 yards and 3 touchdowns while taking several shots from a physical Morris defense led by Indiana-bound and 6-foot-5, 250-pound Danny Friend.
"He's a great athlete, we knew that coming in, we saw that last year," Morris coach Alan Thorson said of David. "The kid is a trooper too playing with a hurt hand like that. The times we didn't pressure him I think he hurt us."
Morris came in fired up. After forcing an incompletion on the first play, the Redskins' Anthonee Monson chirped at the Knights "It's going to be a long night!"
Which it turned out to be, one filled with big plays by both teams.
David opened the scoring with a 59-yard touchdown pass to Martinelli only to see the Redskins score 10 unanswered points in the second quarter including Fernando DelToro's 34-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. That came after Josh Lincoln's 75-yard interception return on a deflected pass with the clock stopping at .6 seconds left before halftime allowing DelToro time for the kick -- instead of Kaneland getting the go-ahead score at half the Knights trailed 10-7.
Kaneland went to a "heavy" package moving Justin Diddell and Joe Komel into the backfield and Jaumaureo Phillips to the offensive line. The Knights snapped directly to Jesse Balluff who ran 53 yards to start the second-half scoring and put the Knights back ahead 14-10.
Balluff rushed for 142 yards on 21 carries.
"We didn't see the big linemen (on film), that was a new wrinkle that coach Fedderly put in," Thorson said. "It's a great coaching staff and a great team and they are going to throw stuff at you. They put a little bit of beef in the backfield running at you and I thought our kids did a good job (after Balluff's TD)."
Morris fought back and took 24-20 and 30-27 fourth-quarter leads. David had the answer both times, first on a 13-yard strike to Dylan Nauert and then the game-winner to Martinelli who caught 6 passes for 122 yards.
Morris had one final chance and ran a trick play on first down as Cinnamon lateraled to Friend who threw back to Cinnamon for 19 yards and a first down at midfield. With just 12 seconds left, Ryan Lawrence led a host of Knights for a sack of Cinnamon to end the thriller.
"We're going into the playoffs undefeated which is a great feeling," Lawrence said. "Morris is definitely our most physical game. Rochelle is very physical but Morris definitely is more."
"It was a great game, it was unfortunate for our kids, but we're going to be OK," Thorson said. "I don't know if it is snakebit, you are losing to a good team every year. But it hurts the kids. They gave everything they have."