Friday night's Class 5A opening round playoff game between Kaneland and Belvidere featured an abundance of big plays and over 1,000 yards of combined offense, but one key defensive play factored heavily in deciding the outcome.
With Belvidere driving for a potential go-ahead score, Kaneland senior Kory Harner intercepted Troy Vandenbroek's pass over the middle at the Knights' 20 with 4:21 remaining.
Kaneland's offense did the rest, churning out three clutch first downs to secure a 51-45 victory in front of exuberant home crowd in Maple Park.
Top-seeded Kaneland (10-0) advanced to play the winner of today's contest between Burlington Central and St. Francis.
"I think that was Kory's first interception this year so he picked a great time for it," said a relieved Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly.
"That interception gave us a spark and we knew it was our time to put the game away," said Knights sophomore quarterback Drew David, who threw for 245 yards and ran for another 82.
What started out as a potential blowout for the Knights quickly turned into a full-fledged shootout against a talented and determined No. 16 seeded Belvidere squad.
Senior Quinn Buschbacher turned the corner for a 43-yard touchdown run on Kaneland's first play from scrimmage and David's 1-yard sneak capped a 70-yard drive on the second possession for a 13-0 lead.
Momentum swung the Bucs way when Marcus Gooden (13 carries, 172 yards) took a counter play 80 yards for a touchdown.
Belvidere (5-5) followed with an impressive 57-yard scoring drive and a 34-yard field goal for a 17-13 lead with 7 minutes left in the first half.
"We thought we could move the ball on them and take advantage of some favorable matchups," said Bucs coach Matt Weckler, whose squad racked up 567 yards of offense.
Kaneland regained the lead on Jesse Balluff's 1-yard plunge, set up by a 39-yard pass play from David to Sean Carter.
Carter hauled in a 65-yard reception on the next drive and Balluff's scored again from a yard out to extend the lead back to 27-17 with 1:07 left in the first half.
Undaunted, Gooden broke off a 48-yard run for Belvidere and Vandenbroek scored on a 9-yard run to narrow the halftime gap to 27-23.
"We knew coming in they had some very good athletes and their quarterback really impressed us," Fedderly said.
Kaneland appeared to seize control again with two scores to open the second half, but Belvidere erased those in a 15-second span.
The Bucs scored on a 23-yard strike from Vandenbroek to Reed Greiter then recovered an onside kick. Vandenbroek scampered 40 yards for a touchdown on the next play to narrow the gap to 41-38.
Buschbacher kept the big plays flowing with a 93-yard kickoff return down to the Bucs' 1 and Balluff hammered in his third score of the game.
"Any way I can make a play, it feels great," said Buschbacher, who added 123 combined rushing and receiving yards.
"Quinn is a three-year starter and that's what we expect from him," Fedderly said.
Vandenbroek found Kyle Harris for a 37-yard touchdown a minute later, then Matt Rodriguez hit a 40-yard field goal for Kaneland with 5:19 left.
Vandenbroek connected on a 50-yard pass play down to the Knights' 23 before Harner's interception three plays later.