A standing room only crowd packed Engh Community Field in Sycamore for the Big XII East Conference matchups of undefeated teams -- Kaneland, the second-ranked team in Class 5A, and host Sycamore, No. 3 in the state.
And the Spartan crowd simulating the proverbial "12th man" may have helped the Spartans steal a victory, as host Sycamore defeated Kaneland 31-21 to remain unbeaten on the season and in the conference and end Kaneland's 35-game regular season winning streak -- one that dates back to a Week 8 loss to Geneva four years ago.
Things looked bleak early for the Spartans. Trailing 14-3 midway through the second quarter, starting quarterback Devin Mottet suffered a shoulder injury on a deep pass to Nick Feuerbach and had to leave the game. But Feuerbach stepped in to back up Mottet and completed 10 of 14 passes for 150 yards to lead the Spartans to their eighth victory of the season.
"Yeah, it was a little nerve-racking at first," Feuerbach said of having to come in to replace Mottet. "But our defense really stepped up big for us tonight and our offensive line gave me a lot of time to throw."
Kaneland (7-1, 3-1) scored on their first possession of the game on a 5-yard run by Isaac Swithers. After forcing the Spartans to punt, the Knights marched to the Spartan 42-yard line, but turned the ball back over to Sycamore (8-0, 4-0) on downs. Sycamore managed a field goal by Tyler Maveus to cut the score to 7-3, but the Knights scored on their very next possession on a 9-yard pass from Drew David to Nate Dyer for a 14-3 lead with just over five minutes left in the first half.
Mottet was injured on Sycamore's next possession on a 30-yard pass to Feuerbach that brought the Spartans to midfield. Enter Feuerbach the quarterback. Facing third-and-8 several plays later, Feuerbach took off up the middle and then cut right for a 30-yard touchdown run that closed the gap to 14-10 at the half.
Sycamore started the second half off with a touchdown on an 11-yard run by Dion Hooker to go up 17-14 for their first lead of the game, but the Knights came right back on their ensuing possession to take the lead back 21-17 on a 28-yard pass from David to Brandon Bishop. The Knights forced the Spartans to punt on their next possession and as the third quarter came to and end, the Knights held the ball on their own 39-yard line.
Then disaster struck for the Knights. Spartan linebacker Jack Dargis intercepted David's short pass and returned it 12 yards to the Knights' 30-yard line. Suddenly, the playful chants of "we can't hear you" from the dueling student sections could no longer be heard as the cheers from the Spartan crowd was deafening. A defensive holding penalty followed by a pass interference penalty gave the Spartans the ball at the 1-yard line where Riley Hurley took it in for a 24-21 Spartan lead.
On the Knights' next possession, the Spartan crowd became even louder. On first down, Dargis sacked David for a 7-yard loss, and after an incomplete pass, back-to-back false start penalties backed the Knights up to their own 18-yard line, and they eventually punted.
With just over five minutes left in the game, the Knights defense forced the Spartans into fourth-and-2 from the Knights' 20-yard line. Rather than attempt a field goal, Sycamore chose to go for it. The Knights' blitz up the middle forced Feuerback to scramble to his left and then back to his right where he found a wide open Colan Treml for a 20-yard touchdown pass to seal the game.
Knights coach Tom Fedderly credited Feuerbach for making plays when it counted, but he wasn't ready to say that the loud crowd noise may have led to four second half false start penalties.
"Those guys (Sycamore) made plays," Fedderly said. "They slung the ball and they executed and all the credit goes to them. That kid (Feuerbach) came in and made plays with his feet and threw some nice balls to guys who were open, so hats off to them. I don't know if it was that (crowd noise) or if it was something else. I don't think it was. We were just having a little problem snapping the ball."
Spartans coach Joe Ryan wasn't convinced his team secured the victory until the clock ran out, and credited the Spartans' students and fans with assisting with the momentum shift in the second half.
"We needed to have the lead against these guys late in a game," Ryan said. "We haven't had that in awhile against these guys. They're a great team. You never think you've got it in the bag against these guys. I didn't even think we had it in the bag when we were taking knees until the clock went down. Feuerbach really played well tonight, and our offensive line really set the tone for us, and we really needed to have that. Our student section was outstanding tonight, and our crowd was outstanding. We haven't had a crowd like that since I've been here. Obviously, it was a big game and a good game to come out and watch, but our crowd was unbelievable and really helped us out tonight."