As the old saying goes, it's not how you start, it's how you finish, and before it was all said and done, Kaneland made a believer out of the crowd at a packed Engh Community Field in Sycamore. The Knights outscored the host Spartans 35-7 after spotting them to an early 14-0 lead for a 35-21 victory.
Quinn Buschbacher, who scored the Knights first three touchdowns, said being able to come back when you're down gives the team confidence for future games as well.
"Having games like this is going to give us great experience for future games as the season goes on and when games come down to the wire," Buschbacher said.
The Spartans scored first when Scott Baker scooped up a fumble on the Knights' second play from scrimmage and returned it all the way to the 4-yard line. Junior Austin Culton scored from 1-yard out three plays later.
The Knights went three-and-out on their next possession, and the Spartans wasted no time in capitalizing, scoring from 35 yards out on a pass from quarterback Ryan Bartels to Jordan Kalk for a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Panic was not on the menu for the Knights, however.
"They scored first on us last year and we were down big to DeKalb earlier this year, but this team keeps fighting," Buschbacher said. "You can't start yelling at your teammates in the huddle and you have to do everything you can to get back in the game, and that's what this team does."
Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly admired the fight in his team for their effort in coming back on the road.
"About everything that could go wrong went wrong in that first quarter," Fedderly said. "We dug a big hole for ourselves and had to keep coming back, so I'm so proud of our kids tonight."
In less than two minutes after Sycamore scored, sophomore quarterback Drew David found Buschbacher for a 55-yard touchdown pass to cut the Spartans' lead to 14-7. Both defenses tightened up through most of the second quarter, but Kaneland managed to win the field position battle, getting the ball at their own 46-yard line with just over two minutes left in the half. After a pass for a short gain to Jesse Balluff, David found Balluff again for a 23-yard gain, and then hit Buschbacher on a post pattern for a 24-yard score to tie the game 14-14.
"I caught a seam and it was just the right route," Buschbacher said. "I have to give credit to Drew (David) because it was just a beautiful ball."
Sycamore (5-3, 2-2) began the second half running a more up-tempo offense, which seemed to have the Knights on their heals. The Spartans started on their own 29-yard line and quickly broke in and out of their huddles to run their plays, but the drive appeared to finally stall at the Kaneland (8-0, 4-0) 26-yard line. Facing fourth-and-five, Bartels scrambled to his left and found sophomore Ben Niemann open down the sideline for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
On Kaneland's next possession, the Knights drove to the Spartans' 10-yard line, but their field goal attempt was wide right. The crowd cheered loudly and it appeared as though Sycamore had finally taken back control of the game.
On their next possession, the Spartans fumbled on their second play from scrimmage and Jacob Razo recovered for the Knights on the 30-yard line. Three plays later, Buschbacher scored from 3 yards out to tie the score 21-21.
The Knights defense forced Sycamore to punt on their next possession, and a 26-yard return from Buschbacher gave the Knights great field position on the Spartans' 31-yard line. David then hit Buschbacher for a 26-yard pass to give the Knights the ball first-and-goal on the five, and Balluff scored from 3 yards out two plays later.
Sycamore fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the ball back to the Knights at the 15-yard line where David ran it in from 4 yards out three plays later for the final score.
Kaneland will put its 8-0 record on the line next Friday in a showdown at Morris.
"This is our oldest rival and it's a big game for both schools and the community," Fedderly said. "I have a lot of respect for their program and we're just happy to get out of here with a victory. The turnovers were big and if you give us the ball that many times, it's going to be hard to stop us."